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Screen Classics 

Screen Classics is a series of critical biographies, film histories, and 
analytical studies focusing on neglected filmmakers and important screen 
artists and subjects, from the era of silent cinema to the golden age of 
Hollywood to the international generation of today. Books in the Screen 
Classics series are intended for scholars and general readers alike. The 
contributing authors are established figures in their respective fields. 
This series also serves the purpose of advancing scholarship on film 
personalities and themes with ties to Kentucky. 

Series Editor 
Patrick McGilligan 



Nick Dawson 


Copyright © 2009 by The University Press of Kentucky 

Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth, 
serving Bellarmine University, Berea College, Centre 
College of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, 
The Filson Historical Society, Georgetown College, 
Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky State University, 
Morehead State University, Murray State University, 
Northern Kentucky University, Transylvania University, 
University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, 
and Western Kentucky University. 
All rights reserved. 

Editorial and Sales Offices: The University Press of Kentucky 
663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508-4008 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Dawson, Nick, 1980- 

Being Hal Ashby : life of a Hollywood rebel / Nick Dawson, 
p. cm. — (Screen classics) 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 978-0-8131-2538-1 (hardcover : alk. paper) 

1. Ashby, Hal. 2. Motion picture producers and directors — 
United States — Biography. I. Title. 

This book is printed on acid-free recycled paper meeting 
the requirements of the American National Standard 
for Permanence in Paper for Printed Library Materials. 

13 12 11 10 09 

5 4 3 2 1 

PN1998.3.A7635D39 2009 
791.4302'33092— dc22 


Manufactured in the United States of America. 

Member of the Association of 
American University Presses 

For my parents, Agathe and Ken Dawson 


Acknowledgments ix 
Prologue 1 

1. Enter Hal 2 

2. The Artist as a Young Man 15 

3. Los Angeles 26 

4. Doors Open ... 42 

5. The Family Man 60 

6. Norman 68 

7. Motion Picture Pioneers of America 

8. 1968 85 

9. Where It's At 98 

10. The Director 106 

11. Harold and Maude 120 

12. Nicholson 133 

13. The Last Detail 140 

14. Shampoo 152 

15. Glory Bound 165 

16. Coming Home 182 

17. Double Feature 200 

18. Being There 216 

19. Lookin' to Get Out 227 

20. Like a Rolling Stone 244 

21. Getting Out 257 


22. Old Man 268 

23. The Slugger's Wife 276 

24. 8 Million Ways to Die 293 

25. The Last Movie 311 

26. Starting Over 319 

27. Do Not Go Gentle 333 
Filmography 343 
Notes 355 

Index 385 

Illustrations follow page 212 


I first became interested in Hal Ashby when I read Peter Biskind's Easy 
Riders, Raging Bulls some ten years ago. In 2002, after writing a bio- 
graphical sketch of Ashby for a biography class, I joked to my tutor, 
Carole Angier, that I would turn it into a book. Well, the joke was on 
me. Carole, a brilliant biographer, proved to be the ideal mentor — 
pragmatic, resourceful, and generous. She shepherded me through the 
first year of my research, always ready with encouragement and illumi- 
nating advice. She was officially my mentor thanks to the Arts Council 
Writers Pool through the Royal Literary Fund and remains my mentor 
and great friend. 

The book really began to take shape during my three months in Los 
Angeles. I spent the vast majority of the time consulting Hal Ashby's 
papers at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion 
Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Barbara Hall and her staff did an 
incredible job, and I am eternally grateful for the warmth of everyone 
there who made me feel at home for the duration of my stay. Also of 
great help to me during my time in Los Angeles were Snowden Becker 
and Brian Meacham at the AMPAS Film Archive, Caroline Sisneros and 
the staff of the American Film Institute library, Ned Comstock at the 
University of Southern California Film Library, and Todd Weiner and 
Mark Quigley at the University of California, Los Angeles, Film and 
Television Archive. And while I am acknowledging libraries, I want to 
thank Charles Silver at the Museum of Modern Art Film Library and 
the staff of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts as well 
as the staffs of the British Film Institute Library, the British Library, the 
British Library Newspaper Library, the University of Warwick Library, 
and the National Library of Scotland. 

My efforts to bring Ashby to life would have been futile without 




the contributions of Ashby's family, friends, and collaborators. The first 
people I interviewed were Jack and Beth Ashby, and they were most 
generous with their advice and guidance through the duration of the 
project. My heartfelt thanks go out to them and everyone else who 
shared their memories of Ashby with me. It was relatively late on that I 
made contact with Leigh MacManus, Ashby's daughter, but getting to 
know her added a new significance to the act of writing this book, and I 
now happily count her as one of my closest friends and, yes, my "Ameri- 
can mom." In addition, special thanks go to Bill Box, Chuck Mulvehill, 
and Jon Voight, who opened doors to me that would otherwise have 
remained hidden or closed. 

For providing me with rare and hard-to-find materials or expertise 
on the more obscure aspects of Ashby's life and work, I tip my hat to 
Holly Allen at Ogden High School, Thom Ernst at TV Ontario, Catherine 
Exton at the Bainbridge Island Historical Society, and Alison Palmer 
Bourke at the Independent Film Channel as well as Chris Cutri, Joyce 
Gallie, Jeremy Goldscheider and Richard Goldgewicht, Josh Hadley, Per 
B. Hansen, Heath Keane, Jerry Lembcke, Charles Lindenberg, Mary 
Myers, and Jim Yoakum. 

I am grateful to Judith "J. B." Anderson, Jack, Beth, and Guy Ashby, 
Joe Baltake, Bill Box, Jeremy Goldscheider and Richard Goldgewicht, 
Bret Haller, Leigh McManus, Chuck Mulvehill, Larry Reynolds, Pierre 
Sauvage, and Jeff Wexler, for offering me the use of photographs from 
their personal collections, and to Ron Mandelbaum at PhotoFest in New 
York City and Sue Guldin at the Herrick Library, who were invaluable in 
helping find the remainder of the photographs reproduced in the book. 

I am also grateful to the following people for granting me interviews: 
Judith "J. B." Anderson, Carrie Ashby, Robert Ballantyne, Joe Baltake, 
Maloy Baretto, Chuck Barris, Warren Beatty, Deanna Benatovich, Peter 
Benson, Robert Benton, Alan Bergman, Ian Bernard, A. Lee Black- 
man, Tom Blackwell, Bill and Gloria Box, Gianni Bozzacchi, Andrew 
Braunsberg, Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges, Garrett Brown, Steve Burum, 
Bob Busico, Michael Butler, David Carradine, Robert Carradine, Ju- 
lie Christie, Charles Clapsaddle, Gus Cooper, Guy D'Alema, Michael 
Dare, Andrew Davis, Lisa Day, Caleb Deschanel, Robert Downey Sr. (a 
prince), Charles Eastman, Pablo Ferro, James Foley, Joyce Gallie, Andy 
Garcia, Eva Gardos, Robert Ginty, Lee Grant, Lynn "Grif " Griffis, Jan- 



ice Grow, Max Grow, James William Guercio, Betty Gumm, Eric Haller, 
Jerry Hellman, Simon Hinkly, Dustin Hoffman, Melodie Johnson Howe, 
Celia Imrie, Norman Jewison, Bob Jones, Mike Kaplan, Al Kooper, 
Kenneth Kleinberg, Richard La Gravenese, Prince Rupert Loewenstein, 
Mireille Machu, Leigh MacManus, Derek Malcolm, John Mandel, Doe 
Mayer, Mike Medavoy, Chuck Mulvehill, Michael O'Keefe, Rick Padilla, 
Alexandra Paul, Larry Reynolds, Bob Schaffel, Paul Schoeman, Dianne 
Schroeder Hanks, Al Schwartz, Sonya Sones, Peter Sorel, Jack Swanson, 
John Teton, Jon Voight, Haskell Wexler, Jeff Wexler, Rudy Wurlitzer, 
and Chris Young. 

A large number of fellow journalists and writers gave me contact 
details, clippings, counsel, and encouragement. Many thanks to Peter 
Biskind, Jim Davidson, David Ehrenstein, Bob Fischer, Luke Ford, Dar- 
ren Hughes, Jessica Hundley, Allan Hunter, Robin Lloyd Jones, Derek 
Malcolm, Gerald Peary, Brian Pendreigh, Stephen Rebello, Dan Sal- 
litt, Pierre Sauvage, David Sterritt, Peter Tonguette, Sylvia Townsend, 
Charles Trentelman, and Linda Ruth Williams. A special thank-you 
goes to David Stenn for Maxine. 

There were also a handful of writers who gave much, much more 
than I could have hoped for in terms of their editorial notes, support, 
and encouragement. I am deeply grateful to David Parkinson, Lee Hill, 
and Patrick McGilligan — dinner is on me next time. 

And while I mention the writing profession, I would like to express 
my appreciation to Michael Bonner, Peter Bowen, Dan Jolin, Scott Ma- 
caulay, Angus McDonald, and Alan Morrison, who have all given me 
work when I needed it. 

Additionally, my friends — despite thinking I had gone slightly cra- 
zy — were very supportive, and I must therefore give an appreciative nod 
to Suzi Buchner, Harry Cayton, Pete Hinstridge, Amy Lanchester, Jan 
Lee, Jenny Queen, Jonny Riddell, Denny Vlaeva, and Henry Volans. 

Leila Salisbury and Anne Dean Watkins, my editors at the University 
Press of Kentucky, achieved the remarkable feat of making the process 
of readying the book for publication not only understandable and easy 
but actually enjoyable. 

Very special thanks go to my parents, Agathe and Ken, and my 
sister, Jo. After university, I decided that rather than getting a proper 
job I wanted to spend the foreseeable future doing research for a book 



about someone very few people had heard of. My parents allowed me to 
come back home for long periods in order to pursue my unreasonable 
dream. Quite simply, without their unwavering love and support, this 
book would not exist. 

The final acknowledgment must, of course, go to my wife. Heather. 
The story of our lives together is inextricably linked with this book: I 
met Heather when she was working at the Margaret Herrick Library; 
we took our lunches at the same time every day, and we kind of took 
things from there. Almost four years later, I can't imagine life without 
her, and within the context of the book, she has been my rock. A former 
copyeditor, she took it upon herself to go through my hefty manuscript 
word for word to help make it the best book it could be. She has made 
me a better person and unquestionably a better writer. Sweetheart, I 
promise the next one will be much easier. 


June 2, 1969, the morning of his first day directing, and Hal can't breathe. 
He has bronchitis. He can't talk. All he can do is gasp and point. The 
doctor comes, checks him over, and tells him he has walking pneumonia, 
brought on by fear. 

In the seven months or so since his mentor, Norman Jewison, had told 
him he would be directing his first film. The Landlord, a nagging doubt 
had been eating away at him. Over the past ten years, he'd collaborated 
closely with Jewison, as well as such Hollywood greats as William Wyler 
and George Stevens, and had keenly watched how they worked. Even 
after a week of rehearsals, he feared he wouldn't be able to communicate 
properly with the actors or get them to give him what he wanted. 

The rehearsals hadn't been very conventional: the cast read through 
the script, talked about the characters, expressed their ideas about the 
story. Everybody got to know each other, and it was relaxed, just how 
Hal liked it. Though he hadn't really addressed the problem at all, he'd 
hoped the week of rapping with the actors had gotten rid of that little 
knot inside him. 

"You've got to go to bed," says the doctor.^ 

"Hell, no!" Hal manages to say between gasps and tells him to pump 
him full of any drug he can, to inject anything into any part of his body.^ 
Just do whatever is necessary so he can go and direct. 

Hal is terrified and sick, but there's a part of him that's buzzing with 
excitement. It's been almost fifteen years: he's made it through eight gru- 
eling years as an apprentice editor, he's worked night and day, putting 
his job ahead of everything, he's seen his dedication to the dream destroy 
two marriages, but he's won an Oscar as an editor, and now he's about to 
direct his first film. He's right where he wants to be: he's got a seat with 
his name on the back, and they're waiting for him to call "Action!" 



Enter Hal 

I was born in Ogden, Utah. Never a Mormon. Hated school. 
The last of four children. Mom and Dad divorced when I was 
five or six. Dad killed himself when I was twelve. I struggled 
toward growing up, like most others, totally confused. 
—Hal Ashby 

Hal Ashby's paternal grandfather, Thomas Ashby, came to America in 
1870. Just twenty-one when he left his hometown of Leicester, England, 
he crossed the Atlantic with his eighteen-year-old fiancee, Rachael Hill. 
After training as a shoemaker in Lynne, Massachusetts, then the Ameri- 
can center of quality shoemaking, he moved west in pursuit of new op- 
portunities. He ended up in Utah, and, after unsuccessfully joining a 
boot and shoemaking cooperative, he settled in Ogden, where he started 
his own business. 

Sixty miles north of Salt Lake City, Ogden was a growing town rich 
in potential for entrepreneurs because it was the "Junction City" of the 
Union and Central Pacific railway. The population was doubling every 
ten years, and Thomas Ashby benefited hugely from an ever-growing 
number of customers: by the early 1880s, he was employing eleven men 
and had moved to a specially constructed building with a factory in 
the rear and a shop in the front. His family was growing too: by 1885, 
Rachael had given birth to seven children (only five survived). The fol- 
lowing year, however, she died, and Thomas married Emily Coleman, 
the sixteen-year-old daughter of James Coleman, one of his shoemakers. 
A year later, Emily bore him a son, James Thomas Ashby, but Thomas's 
fortunes after this did not look up. 

His decision to bring his brother John into the firm and significantly 
expand the business coincided with a major downturn in the Ameri- 
can economy that culminated in the Panic of 1893. Having had huge 


Enter Hal 


success as a maker of high-quality shoes and boots, he discovered to 
his great cost that luxury products were the last thing people bought 
when times got tough. Massively overstocked, and crippled by enormous 
debts, Thomas was forced to sell off $20,000 worth of goods for almost 
nothing. He ultimately lost his business as well as his wife, who married 
another man, Herbert Peterson. As the century drew to a close, Thomas 
left Ogden and moved to Salt Lake City. 

In early 1901, the "Salt Lake News" section of the Ogden Standard 
announced: "Thomas Ashby was yesterday examined by County Physi- 
cian Mayo and Dr. H. A. Anderson touching his sanity. He was found 
to be insane and committed to the asylum. Ashby is 53 years of age and 
his mental derangement was brought about by business difficulties and 
domestic affliction."' Four years later, he died in Provo, Utah, aged only 

Raised by his mother and stepfather, Thomas's son James Ashby 
never really knew his father. Though the overwhelming majority of peo- 
ple in Ogden (and Utah as a whole) were Mormon, Herbert Peterson was 
a Gentile, and James grew up only nominally a member of the church. 
A highly sociable youth, he attended more to fraternize than because 
of any religious fervor but was grateful he did when he met and fell for 
a pretty young Ogden girl, Eileen Hetzler, at a church social function. 
Eileen was intelligent, strong willed, and aspirational, and in the hand- 
some and charismatic James she saw someone with similar drive and 
potential. Like James, Eileen had grown up in an unconventional family 
setup: she was the daughter of the polygamist Ogden dentist Dr. Luther 
Hetzler and one of his two wives, Martha Ann Hadfield. Dr. Hetzler had 
died when Eileen was only three, and Martha had remarried another 
fervent Mormon, David Steele, subsequently showing her daughter little 
affection at all. Eileen was, in fact, much closer to her "Aunt Cate" — Dr. 
Hetzler's other widow, Catherine Tribe — with whom she remained close 
for many years. 

On November 10, 1909, James and Eileen were married in the tem- 
ple in Salt Lake City, the home of the Mormon Church. Eileen quickly 
became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, James Hetzler Ashby (known 
as "Hetz"), in December 1910. He was followed just over a year later 
by a baby girl, Ardith, born in February 1912. James got a job working 
on the Bamberger trains that took commuters to and from Ogden and 


Being Hal Ashby 

Salt Lake City, and Eileen would meet his train as it came along the 
Ogden Canyon, bringing him a packed lunch to eat as they walked home 

Unlike James, Eileen had been raised as a strict orthodox Mormon, 
and as a condition of their marriage he had been baptized. Eileen and 
her family wanted James to become more involved with the church, so 
they convinced him to sign up to go on a mission, something usually 
undertaken by those without ties, young men in their late teens or early 
twenties, or retirees. 

Unfortunately, James was sent on a proselytizing mission to South 
Africa, one of the most demanding missions conceivable. It was usual to 
go to a different state to spread the word of the church, but James had to 
leave his wife and children and go halfway around the world — and pay 
for all of it himself. Given the dangers involved in traveling to and then 
living in Africa, there was no guarantee that he would return. It was the 
biggest crisis of James and Eileen's life together so far, both financially 
and personally. The home that had been built especially for them at the 
time of their wedding was sold to pay for James's mission. Eileen and the 
children were relocated to a quickly assembled house built by James in 
David Steele's back garden, and through Steele Eileen got a job cooking 
in the county jail. For the next few years, she was to be the family's sole 

On September 19, 1916, James left Ogden, his family, his friends, 
and everything he knew behind. During the two and a half years he was 
away, he traveled all the way around the world, visiting Honolulu, Ameri- 
can Samoa (where he wrote that he "picked bananas and coconuts, and 
visited the natives in their huts"), Australia, Madeira, and England.^ 

In South Africa, his time was mostly spent tracting and proselytizing 
in Cape Town, where he was called a he-devil, attacked by prospective 
converts' dogs, and threatened with being shot. In his time off, however, 
he played tennis and baseball, caught a shark, saw penguins, scrubbed 
tortoises, made a whole freezer full of ice cream, and discovered the won- 
ders of the cinema. On one occasion, he found a vantage point from which 
Robben Island, the Atlantic Ocean, "the Indian ocean, . . . Cape Town 
harbor and docks and the city of Cape Town with her suburbs" could be 
seen at one time, "the most beautifull [sic] sight I ever saw in my life."^ 

James had never left Utah before, let alone America, and his time 

Enter Hal 


in South Africa not only broadened his horizons immeasurably but also 
taught him about life's brutal realities. James and another missionary, 
Elder Merrill, were sent to Port Elizabeth to tract, and the pair had to 
make the return journey of more than four hundred miles on bicycle. If 
they were lucky, they slept exhausted in barns after eating scraps, but 
often their requests for food and shelter met with aggressive responses 
from wary farmers, and they had to lie in fields and ditches, able only to 
dream about food. 

Just before James left South Africa, the Spanish influenza pandemic 
reached Cape Town. Within days, huge swathes of the population were 
stricken, and in the poorest parts of the city the dead lay in the streets, 
piled up on wagons to be buried in mass graves. James was fortunate 
not to be infected, but he nursed many of the sick and saw his fellow 
missionary Victor Burlando, a Mormon baby, and many more around 
him die. Only on Armistice Day, a few weeks later, did anyone in Cape 
Town smile again. 

James kept a diary during the course of his mission detailing his ex- 
periences. In his final entry — dated April 19, 1919, the day he returned 
home — he wrote that he met a friend at the station "who took me home 
in his car," poignantly adding that he "spent the afternoon getting ac- 
quainted with my wife and children.'"* 

On his return, James bought out the business he had previously 
worked for, the Uintah Dairy Company, which had a bottling plant and a 
milk route. Over the next ten years, he turned it into a mini empire com- 
prising five or six routes, a neighborhood grocery store, and a roadside 
lunch stand. The steely determination that had gotten him through his 
mission, along with his innate charm, made him a natural entrepreneur. 

While his business flourished, things were more difficult at home. 
James had missed out on crucial years of his children's development and 
felt distanced from Eileen. Communication during their years apart had 
been almost impossible: there were no telephones, and letters were sent 
via China and tended to turn up in bundles of twos and threes or not at 
all. James felt bitter about what he had been through and turned away 
from the church, but Eileen (who had herself become disenchanted for 
the same reasons) still took the children to Sunday services. They spent 
little time together, as James threw himself into his work and then frus- 
trated Eileen by spending his free time playing poker with friends. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Recognizing that their marriage was in trouble, they hoped having 
more children might bring them closer again. So in 1925 Jack Ashby 
came into the world, followed four years later by his baby brother: Hal. 

William Hal Ashby had, in his own words, "an interesting childhood, 
as those things go."'' Born at ten minutes past midnight on September 2, 
1929, he apparently weighed an enormous fourteen pounds and already 
had curly blond hair. Baby Hal was delivered by Eileen's brother-in-law. 
Dr. Wiley Cragun, at the Ashbys' family home at 3531 Washington Bou- 
levard and then moved to the maternity hospital on Twenty-first Street. 
It was love at first sight for Eileen, and from that moment onward he 
would always be her darling baby boy. In 1960, she wrote him a letter in 
anticipation of his birthday, in which her continuing devotion is touch- 
ingly apparent: 

It will soon be 31 years since I first saw your dear little face. The 
cutest thing I ever saw. When you were 5 days old you just cried 
and cried day and night. I ask the nurse why you couldn't rest. She 
said you were colicy. But when she went out I got up and looked 
you over. Your poor behind was almost blistered. I changed you. 
Put on some old remedy I had there and informed the nurse . . . 
that I would change you from then on. You soon were sleeping 
and happy with the cutest fat hind end I ever saw.*" 

Hal and his hind end arrived the day before his father's forty- 
second birthday and just over two months before Eileen and James's 
twentieth wedding anniversary. More significantly, he was born eight 
weeks before the Wall Street crash that was to plunge America into the 
Great Depression. 

Utah was one of the states worst hit by the Depression; however, the 
Ashbys were fortunate to escape the full impact of the crash. As Hal's 
father owned his own business, he was not among the many who lost 
their jobs, and because he owned both the Uintah Dairy Company and 
the grocery store, he was in a particularly strong position. 

After Utah's liquor laws were relaxed in 1935, James expanded 
his empire by opening a drive-in beer parlor on Washington Boulevard 
called the Big Mug. People could drive up, drink beer for two or three 
hours, and then drive off again. If necessary, there were a few cots in 

Enter Hal 


the basement where patrons could sober up until they were fit to leave. 
It was a remarkably successful venture and compensated for any lean 
periods at the dairy or the store. At the end of the Depression, James's 
financial situation was comfortable enough for him and Hal to load up 
a wagon and take milk down to vagrants in the hobo camp on the out- 
skirts of town. 

But such father-son excursions were rare as James worked long 
hours at the store. Eileen, despite her devotion to little Hal, was also 
absent much of the time, so it was Ardith who took her younger brothers 
around town and to doctors' appointments and babysat whenever neces- 
sary. Because Hetz was eighteen and Ardith seventeen when Hal was 
born and both remained unmarried until they were in their thirties, they 
became like second parents to Hal and Jack. Ardith in particular did so 
much for them that Hal affectionately called her "Sis," as if he almost 
had to remind himself that she wasn't his mother. 

On the occasion of Hal's third birthday, Ardith wrote a piece on 
her baby brother that shows the great love she felt for him. More signifi- 
cantly, it reveals that aspects of his personality that he would display as 
a director — his charm, his temper, his intrepidity, his interest in tech- 
nological gadgets, and, moreover, his ability to inspire great love and 
loyalty in others — were already very much at the fore: 

Although Hal is now three years old I still call him my little 
angel from heaven. That is what he has always seemed to me. 
To me he is extra adorable, and of course, clever. For a child 
he has an extra pleasing personality. Not being backward and 
slightly forward he makes friends with most every one. He chat- 
ters and expresses himself so that you can't help but adore him. 
He has a way of flattering by telling you that you are pretty or 
your eyes are pretty. He is grateful for what you do for him. I 
love and worship him so much that I could rave on for ever, 
but — telling what I think of this darling little creature I forgot 
one or two things. First of all he has a temper. Nothing out of 
the ordinary, but he lets us know when he is angry or wants his 
way. Of course, this is natural. If he were perfect he wouldn't be 
such a darling. 

During the first weeks and months of walking we were sure 
he would be a great electrician when he got older. He connected 


Being Hal Ashby 

and disconnected every plug he could find and for weeks he 
played with an iron cord. This continued for several months, 
until he got so many shocks he left electric things alone. 

He is still so young that it is hard to tell what he will be when 
he grows up. I have great hopes that he will be a good student, 
a leader, and have many friends. 

I also wish for his advancement and that he will make some- 
thing of Himself. 


Hal's big sister, Ardith Ashby^ 

If Ardith was like a mother to Hal, then Hetz, in turn, was a father 
figure and a role model for Hal and Jack. He was a Scout leader, played 
the trumpet, and was a true gentleman, and accordingly Jack joined the 
Scouts, took up the trumpet, and grew up to be a gentleman like his 
brother. Hal, however, had a rebellious streak and as a boy lacked his 
brothers' discipline and commitment, though he would later have both 
in spades. He too took trumpet lessons and joined the Scouts but didn't 
last long with either. 

Despite their differences. Jack and Hal were almost inseparable 
childhood companions. However, on one particular day around 1934, 
Jack was convinced that their fun had come to a tragic end. They were 
playing with a broomstick when Jack decided to throw the "spear" at a 
cushion on the porch swing. But just as he threw it, Hal's head popped 
up from behind the seat — and the "spear" hit him square in the fore- 
head, knocking him to the ground. 

Jack rushed to see what had happened to Hal and saw that there was 
a big gash on his forehead and that he was completely still. With great 
trepidation, he quickly phoned his parents at the store. 

"You'd better come home," Jack gasped. "I've just killed Hal."* 

The store was only a few blocks away, and James and Eileen rushed 
home in a complete panic. Fortunately, with the help of Uncle Wiley, it 
was discovered that Hal was merely concussed and that his gash needed 
only a few stitches. 

For Jack and Hal, the first half of the 1930s was a happy time, filled 
with fun and games and the innocence of childhood. They had picnics 

Enter Hal 


and went on camping trips, and neither of the boys saw the signs of the 
problems between their parents that Ardith and Hetz had been seeing 
for years. On the surface, nothing seemed to be wrong. There were no 
arguments, and both parents always seemed to be around. But in 1935, 
James and Eileen got divorced. 

At first, things were not much different. The divorce was dealt with 
quickly and amicably by both parties so that the children were not too 
traumatized by what was going on. Though they no longer lived with 
him. Jack and Hal nevertheless spent a lot of time with their father, who 
was still welcome at the house. They also worked for him at the store, 
stocking the shelves and cleaning up for extra pocket money. 

The divorce seemed to be what caused the Ashbys to finally and 
fully split from the church. As 80-90 percent of Ogden residents were 
Mormons, the Ashbys being "inactive" was an issue for many people, 
and though they were not ostracized, they were still made to feel uncom- 
fortable. A number of Jack and Hal's classmates at school repeated their 
parents' verdicts on the matter, telling the Ashby boys that they "were 
not on the right path."' 

In later years, the memory that Ashby chose to share from these 
times was, in fact, humorous rather than sad. It concerned a trip to Salt 
Lake City to see the Ashbys' general practitioner. Dr. Barrett, that Hal 
recalled with considerable amusement: 

I went to him for a check up of some sort. All the tests were 
finished except for my urine specimen. Naturally I couldn't go, 
so Dr. B told me to go out and walk around Salt Lake, drink 
plenty of water, and return in an hour. It was during the sum- 
mer and, as you know, there were water fountains every half 
block. I must have drunk from thirty of them before returning 
to Dr. B's office. They handed me a very small bottle, stuck me 
in a very small room — a room, I might add, that did not have 
a toilet. It was with grave misgiving that I started to pee. The 
misgivings were well founded; once started I couldn't stop; there 
was enough in me to fill five bottles the size he gave me. Needless 
to say, I flooded that small room. The only saving factor was a 
box of Kleenex. That, at least, allowed me to sop up the excess. I 
never told Dr. B. about that, and it must have been twenty years 


Being Hal Ashby 

or more after that before I was able, without great difficulty, 
to give a urine specimen, when requested by various doctors, 
even if I was put in a room with ten toilets in it. Also, I have 
often wondered what the person thought when they emptied 
the waste basket in that small room and found all those soggy 
Kleenex tissues.^" 

On March 14, 1936, Hal's father went to Las Vegas to tie the knot with 
one Clarissa Little. Quite how long they'd been a couple is unclear; how- 
ever, the proximity of his divorce and their wedding raises questions as 
to whether Clarissa was a factor in the dissolution of James and Eileen's 
marriage and set Ogden tongues wagging. People's allegiances were with 
Eileen rather than "the new woman," who many assumed had broken up 
a twenty-five-year marriage. Even worse, Clarissa was a Gentile. James's 
customers made it clear that she was not welcome at the store, and she 
was seldom seen about. 

About this time, Eileen decided to pack up with the boys and leave 
Ogden. They moved a lot in the next few years while Eileen, as Jack 
puts it, "just bumbled around, kinda trying to find herself, . . . trying to 
figure out what she wanted to do."^^ First they moved fifty miles north 
to Logan, where Eileen set up a boardinghouse for students at the Utah 
State Agricultural College. They stayed there eighteen months, before 
moving west across the Rocky Mountains to Portland, Oregon. At the 
time, Hetz was working in Portland in the lumber business, and Eileen 
settled down there — again for a year and a half or so — putting her cook- 
ing prowess to use by opening a restaurant. 

Eileen was energetic and full of ideas — which were often unconven- 
tional — and was, as Jack says, "always looking for something better." 
She bought bags of carrots, got Jack and Hal to clean them by put- 
ting a load in their washing machine along with a handful of scrubbing 
brushes, then made carrot juice and sold it, years before it became a 
fashionable drink. Later, Jack and Hal would laughingly call her "the 
original hippie."'^ She knew about food and what was good for people 
and made sure her children ate healthily. A number of her big business 
ideas revolved around food. In the late 1930s, she bought recipes for 
donuts and butter toffee for the sum of $200, a huge amount of money 
at the time. People thought she was mad, but the donuts did such good 
business that they easily paid back her investment. 

Enter Hal 


During Eileen's restless period, Hal and Jack spent even more time 
together than usual because they were never anywhere long enough to 
properly get to know the neighborhood children. All the moving around 
seemed to be necessary from Eileen's perspective, but it wasn't at all easy 
for the boys. 

To their relief, they returned to Ogden in 1939, but Eileen was still 
restless, and they moved five or six times within the town. Neverthe- 
less, Hal and Jack were more grounded. They could also once again 
spend time with their father and, as Hal was now ten, were able to do 
more grown-up activities. The three of them would go into the Wasatch 
Mountains, pitch a tent, and spend a weekend hiking, fishing, and hunt- 
ing. One of the Ashby men's traits was that they rarely had to go to the 
toilet, which was handy on those camping trips. (Later, when Hal spent 
weeks on end stuck in an editing room, determinedly focused on his 
task, this talent was again useful.) 

Some days. Jack and Hal would borrow .22 rifles from their father, 
who collected guns, and go off after school to shoot at old tin cans 
for target practice. Other days, they grabbed their bikes and rode to a 
fishing hole a few miles from their home and spent the afternoon fishing 
or swimming. Once a week, they went to the movies. "Almost every 
Saturday, Hal and I went to the theaters that showed the weekly serial 
adventures and cowboy movies," Jack recalls.'^ 

The Uintah Dairy pasteurized, bottled, and then delivered milk on 
seven or eight routes, and when Jack was fourteen, his father made him 
a delivery driver on one of the routes. The milk had to be delivered to 
the customers' doorsteps before sunrise, so Jack had to get up at three in 
the morning, and despite the hour, Hal was sometimes with him. Jack 
would drive the truck, and Hal would put the bottles on the doorsteps. 
"In the summertime we'd take the doors off the truck, and he would just 
jump out with the milk in his hands and run up to the porch and pick 
up the empty bottles and run back," Jack recalls. "It really was tough 
getting up that early. It really ruined our social life."^"* 

Fortunately, life at home was good. Though they never had a lot 
of money, Eileen always made the important occasions memorable. For 
birthdays, she made special cakes, and Santa never let the Ashby boys 
down on Christmas Eve. Their father was another regular visitor at 
Christmas and was often invited over for dinner at other times too. In 
1941, Hal did not receive individual Christmas cards from his parents. 


Being Hal Ashby 

just a joint one from "Dad and Mom." Because Hal and Jack had no 
contact whatsoever with Clarissa, there must have been times when they 
almost forgot their parents were divorced at all. 

On Sunday, March 22, 1942, James was due to have dinner with 
Eileen and the boys. Eileen thought he was unhappy with Clarissa and 
suspected that he wanted to end the marriage, and apparently they had 
even discussed the possibility of getting back together. 

But he never made it to dinner. 

That day, he was at the Uintah Dairy Company offices. Just before 
noon, he told one of his young employees, Denzil Shipley, that he was 
going to clean his guns, which he had not done since the end of the hunt- 
ing season. At five past midday, another employee, Bernadine Anderson, 
heard a shot and rushed into her boss's office. By the time she got there, 
he was already dead, having died instantly from a shot to the head. 

On the few occasions that Hal would discuss his father's death, he 
always said it had been a suicide; what he did not say was that he was the 
only person in the family who believed that. It has been said that Hal's 
father killed himself because he had refused to pasteurize his milk and 
therefore lost the dairy,^' that he killed himself in a barn, and that Hal 
was the one who first discovered the body.^* None of these stories is true: 
Hal's father had not lost the dairy; he had no livestock, let alone a barn; 
and Hal did not find his father's body. 

However, determining the truth surrounding James's death is not a 
straightforward matter. If James was considering rekindling his relation- 
ship with Eileen and had no major business problems, there is no readily 
discernible motive for suicide. And that Hal alone believed his father 
killed himself makes suicide even less plausible. However, if one exam- 
ines the sheriff's department's report, it begins to look more likely: 

Weber County Sheriff John R. Watson said today officials had 
decided the death of James Thomas Ashby, 54, of 3531 Wash- 
ington, who died of a gunshot wound Sunday, was accidental. 
After an investigation, he said, officers concluded there was no 
need of an inquest, and none will be held unless requested by 
the family. 

Mr. Ashby died at twelve — five p.m. Sunday at the offices of 

the Uintah Dairy Products Co., 3667 Washington, of which he 
was president. Investigation revealed he had been cleaning guns 

Enter Hal 


at the time of the accident. He had cleaned two, and was work- 
ing on the third when it was discharged. 

When police arrived, they discovered the barrel of a .32-cali- 
bre rifle clutched in one hand. The bullet had entered the head 
beneath the chin, and medical reports indicated death was in- 
stantaneous. Mr. Ashby was alone in his office at the time of the 
accident. Miss Bernadine Anderson, an employe [sic], was in the 
next room when she heard the shot. Another employe, Denzil 
Shipley, said he had been talking to Mr. Ashby a few minutes 
before. He told the youth he had not cleaned his guns since the 
hunting season so he decided to do it Sunday afternoon, and 
then have them registered, according to the sheriff.'^ 

Whether or not there was an obvious motive, the circumstantial evidence 
all seems to point clearly to suicide. The fact that James pointedly told 
an employee he was cleaning his guns five minutes before he shot himself 

seems too measured, as if he were giving others a way of interpreting 
his death as accidental; and it seems highly implausible that a man so 
accustomed to dealing with firearms would clean a .32 rifle while it was 
loaded. Furthermore, the fact that he shot himself beneath his chin so 
the bullet entered his brain immediately causing almost instantaneous 
death suggests that it was a deliberate act. That his death was not fully 
investigated is not actually so surprising: James was a highly regarded 
and successful Ogden man, and delving too deeply into his death would 
probably have caused more grief than it was worth and been considered 
inappropriate and disrespectful. 

The Ashbys were suffering greatly as it was. The funeral was held 
two days later, less than a mile from the Ashby home. It was still winter 
in Ogden, and snow fell as the family assembled for the service. Because 
of the severe bodily disfigurement, there was a closed casket and no 
viewing of the body. Despite his family's wishes. Jack was determined 
to take one final look at his father. In the swirling snow, he opened the 
casket and looked inside. Instead of a face, all he saw was a body with 
a towel wrapped around its head. "I never did see my dad . . . ," Jack 
recalls quietly.^* 

The impact of James's death on his family is incalculable, but it was 

arguably Hal who struggled most with the loss. Because of the years he 
was away with Eileen in Logan and Portland and the long hours James 


Being Hal Ashby 

worked at the store, Hal never properly got to know his father. The one 
time he discussed his father's death directly with an interviewer, he said: 
"I was 12 years old. My father used to make me laugh a lot. He would 
give me a dollar for taking the soda pop bottles to the basement of the 
store. But we didn't know each other. And only now, in retrospect, can 
I see how much pain he must have been in."" Losing one's father and 
believing that he killed himself would be incredibly tough at any age, but 
for it to happen at twelve, when Hal was dealing with the problems of 
adolescence, must have made it doubly so. He was unable to discuss it 
with his family, so instead he bottled up the emotion, the anger, and the 
feeling of injustice, only ever letting it out in uncharacteristic bursts of 
anger or private moments of desperation. 

On the rare occasions he talked to friends about his father, Hal ap- 
parently said that his father had arranged for Hal to meet him on the day 
he died and that when he came to find him, he discovered that he had 
committed suicide, abandoning him in the most permanent way possible. 
In the years that followed, Ashby struggled with issues about authority 
figures as well as fear of emotional closeness, abandonment, and betrayal. 
These personal demons, which massively affected every aspect of his per- 
sonal life and business dealings, can be traced back to this incident. 

In 1973, the photographer Richard Avedon recommended to Ashby 
a New Yorker piece called "A Story in an Almost Classical Mode" by 
Harold Brodkey. A rawly honest autobiographical short story about 
Brodkey's teenage years in the early 1940s, which were overshadowed 
by his parents' illness and death, it had strong echoes of Ashby's own 
experiences at that time. Ashby wrote to Avedon and thanked him for 
"turning me on to the Harold Brodkey story in September's Netv Yorker. I 
really enjoyed it, and found it a beautiful, thoughtful and loving story."^° 
Ashby, however, never mentioned the parallels with his own life or the 
painful flashes of recognition that reading the story must have caused. 
Brodkey's work is a revisitation in middle age of the adolescent struggle 
with the impact of a parent's death, yet this is precisely what Ashby 
never did. At no stage — neither in his teens nor later on — did he ever 
delve deeply to examine and heal the scars caused by his father's death. 
That Hal Ashby "struggled toward growing up, . . . totally confused," is 
really no surprise. 


The Artist as a Young Man 

As a rule, the teens are when a person comes closer and closer 
to the realities of life, and he doesn't want this to happen, but 
he knows, somewhere deep inside, it must and will come. The 
reality he dreads most is a plain, simple fact: One day, soon 
now, he will have to become a responsible human being. All 
of his life to date has been spent in the luxury of being cared 
for, and now he is faced with caring for himself. He is selfish 
by nature, and wants desperately to retain the security he 
has always known. He rebels against growing up with every 
means available. 
—Hal Ashby 

After Eileen brought the boys back to Ogden, Hal spent less time with 
Jack and began making friends, a luxury he had not had while they were 
moving around. He was charming and amiable and soon became widely 
liked. He started to express his personality through his appearance and 
was always up on the fashions of the day. His hair was perfectly cut and 
styled, and he wore peg trousers with a key chain. A dapper, handsome 
teenager, he looked very distinguished in his glasses, while his blond 
hair, blue eyes, and soft voice added an innocence to his mature sartorial 

Following his father's death, Hal was thrust into a much more re- 
sponsible role. He found himself one of the owners of the Uintah Dairy, 

which James had left to his four children, who, accordingly, turned it 
over to their mother. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, all 
American boys aged seventeen or eighteen were expected to enlist. Jack 
left Ogden in March 1943 to join the U.S. Navy, leaving thirteen-year- 
old Hal, now a student at nearby Washington High School, to be the 
man of the house. 



Being Hal Ashby 

Hal's adventurousness and exuberance had been tempered by Jack's 
good sense and caution, but with Jack stationed in Guam and his father 
gone, there was nobody but Eileen to rein Hal in. On the milk route with 
Jack, there had already been signs of his rebellious streak. Hal used to 
check the trucks to see if any of the drivers had left anything behind. 
When he came across a pack of cigarettes, he'd flip one out and enjoy an 
illicit smoke. 

Though Hal wrote Jack saying what a great time he was having in 
high school, the truth was that his rebelliousness stemmed from unhap- 
piness. Many of his friends recall him dreading going home. James's 
death had sparked an inevitable anger and bitterness in Hal that made 
home life extremely difficult: he was angry at his father for leaving and 
at his mother because he partly blamed her, for whatever reason, for 
his father's suicide. Ashby's schoolmate Bob Ballantyne recalls that he 
referred to his parents as "that bitch" and "that son of a bitch. Ballan- 
tyne's father had left when he was eight, while another schoolmate, Bob 
Busico, had lost his father when he was eight, and throughout his life, 
Hal would latch onto friends who had also gone through their formative 
years without fathers. 

As a way of staying away from the house, Hal began to socialize 
more. Though he had many friends his own age, he also started hanging 
around with kids a few years older. The younger students were rarely ac- 
cepted by the seniors, but Hal was easy to talk to, and if he liked people, 
he would show a genuine interest in them and make them feel valued. 
He also knew how to take a joke. "He was always making us laugh and 
had glasses as thick as coke bottles," Busico remembers. "I was always 
saying, 'Hal, let me borrow your glasses!' Then we wouldn't give them 
back and he couldn't see."^ 

Hal played basketball and football, and though he did not excel, 
whenever he didn't make the team, he would still be there on the bench, 
watching and supporting Busico and the other guys. He liked their com- 
pany and enjoyed making them laugh and cheering up anybody who 
needed a lift. Busico was the school's star wrestler, and the crowd Ashby 
was socializing with was generally more sporty than academic and most 
interested in just having a good time. 

Though Hal had the potential to be an excellent student, school was 
neither important nor interesting to him, and he is remembered by his 

The Artist as a Young Man 


classmates as someone who did the bare minimum. He didn't even care 
enough about school to always attend and became too well known to the 
truant officer for Eileen's liking. 

Hal, along with Ballantyne and another friend, Clyde Brown, once 
decided to cut class and ended up running out of the school grounds 
pursued by their English teacher. The three hung out after school too, 
riding their bikes, shooting bows and arrows, and sometimes climbing 
the perimeter fence at night to take a dip in the school's old unheated 
swimming pool. 

Hal started to go missing later and later into the evening. "I used to 
wander at night a lot," he once revealed in an interview, "but there were 
always four or five places my mother could call and find me."' 

There was not a lot to do in a small town like Ogden, so Hal and his 
older friends would kill time bowling or playing pool. More often, how- 
ever, they went to one another's houses, where they talked and played 
records. It was at this time that Hal developed a lifelong passion for mu- 
sic. As with anything style related, he always had his finger on the pulse, 
but he didn't do it to be cool; he genuinely adored music. Throughout 
his life, it would be a continuing joy and preoccupation, and his inspired 
use of music in his films would become a trademark. As a teenager, he 
listened to jazz and bebop, but it was ultimately rock and roll that most 
struck a chord with his rebellious nature. 

Eileen felt that Hal's rebellious side was becoming too dominant. 
Though he never got into serious trouble, hanging around with an older 
crowd meant that he was growing up too fast for her liking and drinking 
beer long before the legal age of twenty-one. One day, when Hal was in 
the tenth grade, Eileen found a pack of cigarettes and some condoms in 
his pocket. She immediately called up Ardith, who was working at City 
Hall, and told her to come home. 

"I can't," said Ardith. "I'm working." 

"You have to," Eileen insisted. "It's an emergency!'"* 

During all his teen years, and for the rest of his adult life, Eileen 
and Hal had that difficult relationship that develops when a mother's 
intense love manifests itself as controlling and domineering and the child 
clearly wishes to escape this excessive influence. In Hal's case, he got his 
wish. Eileen decided what he needed was a proper education and not the 
miseducation in life he was getting in Ogden. At the beginning of the 


Being Hal Ashby 

eleventh grade, Hal Ashby found himself far from home and at a very 
different kind of school. 

Puget Sound Naval Academy (PSNA) was situated on Bainbridge Island, 
ten miles across the water from Seattle, Washington. Founded in 1938, 
it was a preparatory school for the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard but was 
often used by parents as a place for straightening out their undisciplined 
sons. It was remote, set in forty acres of prime land four miles from 
Winslow, the nearest town, and an all-male environment where disci- 
pline was always at the fore: a place with a minimum of distractions 
ideal for getting the best out of its pupils. The school taught not only 
the regular high school subjects but also naval drill, seamanship, and 
the rudiments of officers' behavior. Students quickly learned that no 
lapse in attention — whether to the subject being taught or to making 
one's bed — would go unnoticed. Those, like Hal, who had meandered 
through school and had relative freedom at home suddenly found much 
more demanded of them. Merits and demerits were handed out depend- 
ing on pupils' performance, and if the latter outweighed the former, the 
imbalance could be expunged only by an hour of hard labor or drill 
marching per demerit.' 

Despite having been independent and a tearaway in Ogden, Hal 
missed Eileen and all the comforts of home when he arrived at PSNA in 
the autumn of 1945. "He didn't like it at first at all," says Jack Swanson, 
a contemporary. "The discipline and regimentation — getting up, going 
to breakfast and going to lunch at a certain time — wasn't anything that 
he cared for."*" After overcoming his initial frustration, however, Hal be- 
gan to fit in and, as at Washington High, soon made friends and became 

Even more so than in Ogden, he stuck out at PSNA as somebody 
who was different, particularly in his appearance. "He was very neat," 
remembers another classmate, Gus Cooper. "He dressed more modern, 
like a kid from the big city."^ "He had this crew cut and these big horn- 
rimmed glasses that made him look more professorial," adds Swanson. 
"In fact, he gave you the impression that he was a wimp at first if you 
didn't know him. But he was a good size, and you soon found out that 
he could look after himself."^ 

Swanson was at PSNA because he had previously run away from 

The Artist as a Young Man 


home and, like Hal, had been sent there to get him on the straight and 
narrow. He ended up becoming the cadet commanding officer, with Hal 
as his second in command. The two roomed together and, during their 
time at PSNA, became close friends, though Hal was noticeably reluc- 
tant to discuss home and family. "My memory of him was that he was 
special in some way," says Swanson. "It's hard to explain, but he seemed 
to have a certain air about him that was more mature. He loved playing 
jokes and stuff, but he seemed older than the rest of us in some way. He 
was really one of those people that you never forget."' That ability to be 
serious and authoritative while also displaying a sense of fun was some- 
thing that Ashby developed at PSNA and that would become invaluable 
to him when he was a director. 

As is often the case with young people put in positions of authority, 
Hal took his role as a cadet officer very seriously and was as tough on the 
other cadets as a staff member might have been. In the mess hall, the boys 
ate at long tables covered in Masonite sheets. Unimpressed by the state 
of the tabletops, Hal once got the boys on mess duty to pick up the sheet 
and march out of the hall with it. For the next two hours, he made them 
wash and scrub it until he was satisfied with its condition. Hal also tried 
to toughen up the junior cadets, known as "dipes" (short for diapers), 
a name they hated. There was a boy from Seattle who, from the minute 
he arrived at PSNA, made it clear that he really didn't want to be there. 
Every week, his mother would send him a candy bar in an envelope. 
"Ashby had the idea that we should take this candy bar and pulverize it 
inside the envelope before we gave it to the kid," says Swanson. "It was 
like handing him a bag of sand, because we broke the candy bar into as 
many pieces as we could without damaging the envelope. If you couldn't 
stand up for yourself, if you showed the other guys you were weak, we 
weren't very kind. To his credit, Ashby was one of the guys who would 
say, 'OK, we've gone far enough,' and backed off."^° 

It was not only his peers whom Ashby was tough on. One of the 
principal dishes made by Blackie, the PSNA cook, was something called 
"fried mush." One day, Hal was eating this when he bit on something 
hard and almost broke one of his teeth. On inspecting the offending 
item, he discovered that it was the knob from Blackie's radio, which, 
unbeknownst to him, had fallen into the mush. Hal called Blackie into 
the mess hall and, in front of all the other cadets, gave him a dressing- 


Being Hal Ashby 

down, about not only the offending knob but also the generally poor 
quality of the food. It cannot have done Hal's reputation or popularity 
any harm when there was a marked improvement in the standard of 
cooking following Blackie's very public shaming. 

Another staff member Hal had a run-in with was Laird, the foot- 
ball coach. An ex-military man and former professional football player, 
Laird was, in Swanson's words, "tougher than a boiled owl, and was 
hard on us. [He] was trying to make men of us." Laird slammed into the 
boys too violently, and Ashby wasn't afraid to protest the coach's cruel 
behavior. Swanson reveals that Ashby and Laird "sort of got into it a few 
times. . . . One time I thought him and Ashby were actually going to get 
into a fistfight!"" 

Because of the very small number of pupils at the academy, PSNA 
teams would invariably lose games, often by a large margin, but the one 
edge the boys had over their adversaries was mental and physical tough- 
ness. Gus Cooper nonchalantly recounts an incident that occurred when 
he was in one of the school vans on the way to PSNA's sister school. Hill 
Military Academy, in Portland, Oregon. "Jack Swanson was the driver, 
and went around the corner, and we tipped over. We were all in this van, 
Ashby, myself — there must have been about eight of us in there. We had 
to get out and push it back up, and we took off again."^^ 

Fortunately, life outside the classroom at PSNA was not all rigor- 
ous drill and sporting tribulation. The boys attended dances held twice 
yearly to which pupils from girls' schools in nearby Seattle and Tacoma 
were also invited. Jack Swanson had a crush on one of the girls but 
couldn't get any time alone with her: "Ashby had the idea that I ought 
to dress up like a girl and then I could go back to Seattle with these girls 
when they left the academy, which I in effect did. And got into trouble 
for it."" Swanson got on the girls' bus unnoticed in his disguise but was 
inevitably discovered when he tried to get on the ferry back to Seattle. 

Ashby became known at the academy as an adviser on matters 
pertaining to the opposite sex. His old Ogden friend Bob Ballantyne 
confesses that Ashby, despite being younger, had been more up on these 
things than he had: "We together learned the early ways of sex. We 
masturbated a couple of times together. He showed me how to get the 
last juices out, so it won't be dripping. It was all part of growing up."^'' 

Not only was he was more clued up on certain matters than his peers. 

The Artist as a Young Man 


but the tall, gawky, professorial-looking Hal also unwittingly won the 
hearts of a Winslow shopgirl, one of the PSNA coaches' daughters, and 
one of the Seattle schoolgirls (who asked Swanson to put her in touch 
with Ashby long after Hal had left). Jack Swanson, however, recalls that 
the adoration of these young women was never particularly reciprocated 
by Hal. In the summer of 1946, he returned home to Ogden and that fall 
started his senior year at Washington, where he became a member of the 
Sigma fraternity. And it was at Washington that he would meet the first 
girl to have a real impact on him. 

Much had changed in Ogden since his departure the previous year. The 
war was now over, and Jack had been back home already for six months. 
He had remodeled the grocery store, adding an ice-cream parlor to tailor 
it more to Eileen's area of expertise. Jack was also about to get married 
to Beth Christensen, a girl he had met in Ogden while back home for 

Strangely, Jack was not the first Ashby boy Beth had had contact 
with. "A bunch of us girls had a little club that we belonged to, and we 
had a 'girl ask boy' party," Beth recalls. "I didn't have anyone I was 
going with, so I said to my friends, 'Who shall I ask?' They said, 'Ask 
Hal Ashby, he's a neat kid.' So I called Hal Ashby and asked him to this 
party — and he said no! It kinda took the wind out of my sails."'' 

Hal spent much of the summer of 1946 hanging out with Jack and 
Beth while his mother was working at the store. "Hal was in and out," 
Beth recalls, "and he would ask me if I would mind pressing his trousers. 
He'd bring his clothes over to wash, and he'd bring the gang with him. 
They would sit around while they got their clothes cleaned, and I would 
make them some cookies."'*" After Jack and Beth got married, Hal took 
advantage of his elder brother's more upmarket lifestyle. Not only did he 
come round regularly to listen to Jack and Beth's record collection, but 
he twice borrowed Jack's Chrysler New Yorker, both times tearing the 
transmission out of it. 

Over the next two years, Eileen's children all began to settle into 
family life. Hetz got married in June 1946, and Jack and Beth followed 
suit that October. Ardith, who had married in 1942, had her first child, 
Larry, in September 1948, and a month later Guy, Jack and Beth's first- 
born, made his entrance. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Despite being only seventeen, Hal was also part of this sudden rush 
of familial activity. A sixteen-year-old blonde at Washington called 
Lavon Compton had caught his eye, and he asked a mutual friend to 
arrange a meeting. Lavon seemed interested, so Hal was invited round to 
the Compton family home, and the two started dating. It was a case of 
opposites attracting: Hal, the troubled teenager with a rebellious streak, 
fell for Lavon even though — or maybe because — she was the quintes- 
sential good girl, sweet natured, dainty, and petite. 

One day in February 1947, when they had been going out for three 
or four months, Hal and Lavon went to Eileen and told her that Lavon 
was pregnant and that they were going to get married. They were not 
old enough to wed legally in conservative Utah, but Nevada, famous for 
its quickie weddings, was not too far away. On March 1, 1947, Hal and 
Lavon drove the 250 miles from Ogden to Elko, Nevada, with Lavon's 
sister and brother-in-law in tow as their witnesses. 

The ceremony went off without a hitch, but the marriage was dif- 
ficult from the beginning. On the day they eloped, Hal and Lavon left 
the following note for Eileen: 


We're sorry every thing turned out this way. But maybe some 
day things can be made right. 

This $10 is on the big bill we owe you. We'll pay the rest the 
best we can. 

We'll get our things as soon as possible. 

Try to understand. 

All our love, 

Lavon and Hal 

P.S. We both love you very much and thank you for all your 

Eileen had significant reservations about the wedding but still loaned 
Hal and Lavon the $10 for the marriage license. However, a condition of 
their marriage was that Hal finish his studies back at PSNA, where there 
would be no further distractions. So, immediately after getting married, 
Hal and Lavon were separated. 

It was difficult for Lavon, who not only was apart from her new 

The Artist as a Young Man 


husband but also had to live at home with her disapproving parents. 
Like Eileen, they had frowned on the union, and they were also upset 
that the couple had not been married in the Salt Lake City temple like 
good Mormons. However, it was principally Hal that Lavon's parents 
objected to. Much of their dislike stemmed from the fact that he was so 
far from the good Mormon son-in-law they had hoped for. Conversely, 
Hal, as Jack put it, "had nothing good to say about good old George 
Compton [Lavon's father]."^^ 

Lavon was relieved when Hal returned to Ogden after finishing at 
PSNA, and they moved to a little apartment on the other side of town. 
The two weren't used to looking after themselves, and Hal would call 
Beth to ask how to cook French toast and other dishes Lavon didn't 
know how to make. 

Hal used his experience at the Uintah Dairy to get a job at another 
local dairy and, as the couple couldn't afford a car, walked to work 
every day. However, working at the dairy made Hal's eczema flare up, 
so he did not keep the job for long, and Lavon's parents became very 
forthcoming in expressing their opinions on Hal's conduct. "They were 
just always after Hal to shape up, to do this or do that," remembers Jack. 
"It used to irritate Hal no end," adds Beth, "because they were always 
trying to tell him to go to church." 

On September 19, 1947, just two weeks after Hal's eighteenth birth- 
day, Lavon gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom she named Leigh 
after the film star Janet Leigh. The birth of his daughter changed Hal's 
life radically, but instead of making him more devoted to family life, it 
began to raise doubts in his mind. Eileen had just bought a new home, 
and as Hal was now unemployed, the young family moved into a small 
apartment attached to the house. Hal was back home again and once 
again dependent on his mother — except now, not only for himself, but 
also for Lavon and Leigh. Despite the less than ideal circumstances of 
the wedding, he had embarked upon married life full of optimism, but 
now he felt useless and frustrated and started to reconsider his current 

When Lavon became pregnant, marriage was the only real option, 
and he did not question what he was doing because he and Lavon were 
in love. Yet, at the age of eighteen, suddenly he found himself married 
with a daughter, his freedom replaced by lifelong responsibilities. As 


Being Hal Ashby 

Jack recalls, "He just wasn't ready for marriage, wasn't ready to settle 
down. He didn't want to be that tied down."^" 

Hal had two choices: he could honor his marriage vows and stay, 
or he could leave. The latter option was selfish, but it would be a clean 
break, damage limitation. He knew that either way he would cause great 
pain, but he chose the path that he thought would be better for every- 
body in the long term. 

While it might be tempting to speculate that Ashby left Lavon and Og- 
den with dreams of Hollywood, in fact he simply needed to get out. 
Much later, when studios were repackaging his life to be more palatable 
and interesting to journalists, the story of his early life metamorphosed 
into the following: 

A native of Ogden, Utah, Ashby was born into a typical middle- 
class American family. His father, a hard-working tradesman, 
wanted young Hal to complete high school and then join him 
in operating a feed and grain shop, but the son had other ideas. 
After being graduated from Utah State University, he joined one 
little theatre group after another until he found one where the 
management would let him direct a play. Working secretly with 
the actors, Ashby came up with a highly-imaginative production 
of George Bernard Shaw's "Androcles and the Lion" which was 
well received by critics, but considered a calamity by his fam- 
ily. Reason: Ashby dressed his actors in modern clothes and set 
the scene on a football field, thus alienating all the influential 
alumni living in his home town. There was nothing to do but 
leave Ogden. 

The claim that Hal had not only a college education but also a 
strong passion for drama going back to his adolescence was designed to 
make him fit in with other emerging directors of the time — Francis Ford 
Coppola, William Friedkin, Peter Bogdanovich, Bob Rafelson, Martin 
Scorsese — the so-called Movie Brats. They were all young, college- 
educated men whose passion for films stemmed from their very earliest 
days and whose efforts had been focused entirely on becoming filmmak- 
ers. But Hal was different. His interest in cinema was no greater than 

The Artist as a Young Man 


any other teenager's, he didn't go to Utah State (nor did his father own a 
feed and grain store), and his theater company experience (including the 
ludicrous Androcles and the Lion incident) was pure fiction. 

In early 1948, only a matter of months after Leigh's birth, Hal left 
everything he knew in Ogden behind — his wife and child, his mother, 
sister, and brothers — and set off to make a fresh start. 


Los Angeles 

Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me 
the way I came to you, my feet over the streets, you pretty 
town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you 

pretty town. 

—John Fante, Ask the Dust (1939) 

When Hal Ashby left Ogden, he knew that being responsible for a wife 
and child at such a young age was not what he wanted from life. He 
did not know what he did want, but he was confident that out there, 
traveling and working and experiencing America, he would find it. "I 
feel that Americans must leave their homes," he said later. "It is easier if 
you come from a small town because the thrust of life is outward. I feel, 
for example, it is harder to leave the Bronx because it is more complex 
than a small town."^ In order to know oneself, Ashby felt, it is necessary 
to know one's country. 

For a few months, Ashby drifted around, doing jobs here and there, 
and reading whenever he could. It was all part of the process of finding 
himself. Every job he did, every book he read, every town he passed 
through, he hoped would bring him closer to discovering what had made 
him know that a town like Ogden was too small to hold him. He did, 
however, return to Ogden every so often and would see Lavon and Leigh 

Not long after splitting up with Lavon, Ashby started dating Janice 
Austin, another girl he had been to high school with. He saw her on his 
visits to Ogden, and, according to Janice, she was very nearly the second 
Mrs. Hal Ashby: "He asked me to marry him, and he had bought me an 
engagement ring. He didn't have the money for it, and he charged it to 
his mom. His mom was so mad at him she made him take it back. She 
didn't like me very well."^ 


Los Angeles 


Eileen was understandably resistant to the idea of Ashby marrying 
again and told Janice that she would never accept anyone but Lavon 
as her daughter-in-law. Janice's father, who worked with Ardith at the 
waterworks, was also against the marriage, particularly when he learned 
that the couple's grandmothers were sisters, making them second cous- 
ins. Though marriage was no longer in the cards, Hal and Janice kept up 
a long-distance relationship, and Janice recalls that Ashby would write 
to her "every other day."^ 

Around March 1948, Lavon filed for divorce in order to be eligible 
for child-support payments from Ashby. The divorce came through on 
May 10, 1948, with a period of six months before a final judgment of 
divorce would be granted. Lavon was naturally granted full custody of 
Leigh, and Ashby was required to pay $25 every two weeks to help pay 
for her care. He sent an initial payment of $50, but after that nothing 

Fifty dollars a month was a substantial sum, and Janice recalls that 
she was "always getting after him to pay alimony to Lavon for the little 
girl, but he was having problems because he didn't have too many jobs, 
and he never owned a car.'"* One suspects, however, that Ashby ultimately 
ceased payments, not just because of financial restraints, but because of 
an inherent weakness in himself. He was adored by the overwhelming 
majority of people who got to know him, and yet, particularly in the 
first half of his life, he managed to alienate and hurt the very people he 
claimed to love the most, many of whom became greatly embittered as a 
result. Starting with the death of his father, Ashby 's life was defined by 
an insistent refusal to deal with traumatic incidents and emotional con- 
flicts. It seems he believed that if he pushed them to the very back of his 
mind, he could make them Mwhappen. "In life, Hal was the consummate 
editor," says Ashby's friend, Haskell Wexler, "and some people ended up 
on the cutting room floor."^ 

By the summer of 1948, he found himself in Evanston, Wyoming, 
where he was joined by Max Grow, an old friend from Ogden. Ashby 
and Lavon had double dated with Grow and his future wife, who was 
also called Janice. Grow, who was a year older than Ashby, had hung out 
with him after getting out of the navy in the fall of 1947 and remembers 
him as enjoyable company. They had gone to dances together and once 
drove to Lagoon, about twenty miles south of Ogden, to see the jazz 


Being Hal Ashby 

pianist and bandleader Stan Kenton. Ashby had made a special point of 
befriending Kenton and his band for the night, not only because he was 
passionate about jazz, but also because they represented an artistic life- 
style that, whether or not he was aware of it, he wanted to be a part of. 

In Evanston, Ashby and Grow worked on a railroad construction 
job. From Weber Canyon, Utah, all the way up into Wyoming, crews 
of men had been refacing the old railroad bridges, and the pair joined 
them in Wyoming. The work was grueling and repetitive and involved 
chipping off the old, "rotten" concrete on the bridges and then pouring 
in fresh concrete. 

In September, the month of Ashby's nineteenth birthday — and his 
daughter's first birthday — as he and Grow chipped away at the old con- 
crete, his senses told him it was time to move on. As summer turned to 
fall, the cold came in early. The winter of 1948-1949 was one of the 
harshest that the American West ever endured, with many states expe- 
riencing record low temperatures. "When we were up on the scaffold, it 
started to snow," Grow recalls. "He kept saying, 'Let's go down to Los 
Angeles; I've got an uncle there.'"*" 

Ashby later recounted the moment he decided to go to California: 
"We went down to get a drink from the water barrel at 10 a.m., and 
we had to break the ice to get through. And I said, T don't know about 
you, but I'm going to California — livin' off the fruit of the land.'" 
Grow reached his breaking point soon after, when he smashed his 
thumb while working. After waiting three days for their pay, the pair 
hitchhiked south into the sunshine. "I wouldn't take any work clothes 
with me either," Ashby recalled. "I brought slacks and a sports jacket 
and resolved that these would do fine for any job I was willing to 

Ashby and Grow hitchhiked back down into Utah, refusing to 
squander their money on such things as lodgings. "Outside Provo, Utah, 
I slept all night by the side of the road," Ashby subsequently recalled. 

"The next day a deer hunter, the deer tied to the fender, gave me a ride 
all the way to L.A."** (Later, seemingly in reference to this journey, he 
said, "I don't own any guns and I never have. ... It wasn't until I saw 
some guys kill a deer that I decided it wasn't for me.")' 

Six hundred miles later, the hunter dropped Ashby and Grow at the 
intersection of Vermont Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard on the 
northeast side of Los Angeles. No doubt excited to have arrived, they 

Los Angeles 


were brought down to earth with a bump when they discovered that 
Ashby's uncle — his father's half brother, William Ashby, with whom 
they had been planning to stay — had died two years earlier. They quickly 
went from being men setting out to make their fortune in the city by the 
sea to boys with nowhere to stay in a huge, sprawling metropolis that 
neither had ever been to before. They had what was left of their $40 
paychecks from Evanston and nothing else. 

The money seemed to disappear with alarming speed. As Ashby told 
it years afterward, he was trying to live off onion sandwiches but reached 
a point where his funds were so depleted that he bought a Powerhouse 
candy bar that he made last for three days. With his final dime he called 
his mother collect and said, "Your little boy's in California starving."^" 

Eileen responded, "Well, I never told you to go to California: you're 
a bright boy; I'm sure you'll think of something. "^^ 

Looking back on the incident, Ashby was grateful that his mother had 
forced him to face the repercussions of his actions. At the time, however, 
he was desperate and continued to solicit her help, this time in writing: 

Dear Mom, 

Well here is your little lost boy writing to you at last. I havent 
[sic] got a job yet, and I'm broke flat, but I guess everything will 
work out okay. I just wrote you to tell you I'm okay and to give 
you my address in case anything comes up. 
My address is 

Hal Ashby 
c/o Hi Ho Inn 
2601 W. 6th St. 
L.A., S. Cal 

Well Mom, I can't think of anything to tell you, except the cli- 
mate is certainly wonderful here. I'm read [sic] of my cold at 
least. I sure hope I can get a job of some kind, cause I've decided 
to make So. Cal. my home for life. That is if I live long enough 
and don't starve to death. 

Well Bye Bye for now Mom, and remember I always love 

Your Son 

Hal oxoxoxoxo 
P.S. Write when you get a chance.'^ 


Being Hal Ashby 

Ashby's calculated attempts to guilt his mother into sending money 
hinted at such desperation that Eileen finally gave in. He was still her 
baby boy — or, as he put it, "little lost boy" — and he knew that she could 
not hold out forever. But after a period of sending him money, Eileen 
decided that enough was enough. 

The Hi Ho Inn was not, in fact, where he was lodging but a bar near 
MacArthur Park where he and Grow were regulars and had their mail 
sent. The two were staying in a rooming house on Fourth Avenue and 
Pico Boulevard, along with Herb Rose, Vern Hipwell, Ed Burton, and 
Dallas Fowler, a group of boys they knew from Ogden. They had come 
to make their fortune, seeing Los Angeles as a place where they had as 
good a chance as any to turn the American dream into reality. 

They all recognized that getting a job, any job, was a necessity. For- 
tunately, with Christmas approaching, stores needed extra help. Ashby 
and Grow were both hired by Bullock's department store in the down- 
town area, working there over the holiday season and then afterward 
also for the January sales. 

When Ashby and Grow left snowy, frozen Wyoming, they pictured 
Los Angeles as a city of sunshine and opportunity, at the center of which 
lay Hollywood. Janice Grow recalls that Ashby accompanied Grow to 
an open casting call at Maurice Kosloff Productions that they saw adver- 
tised in a newspaper. "Max was extremely good looking," she says. "I 
think they thought he could be a big heartthrob star. Don't know what 
Hal's ideas were."" 

In fact, though he later admitted that he had wanted to be in the 
movie business because "it seemed glamorous,"^'* at the time Ashby had 
not yet fixed on the idea of working in Hollywood as he had never given 
much thought to films. He was not a child who had spent every spare 
moment in darkened movie houses; instead, he'd been out living life. 
When he went to the theater, Ashby had been more interested in serials 
and cowboy movies than "regular movies." "I doubt that his [Hal's] 
early movie experiences had any bearing on how he began his movie 
career," Jack says. "I never actually heard him say he wanted to work in 
the movie business when he grew up."^^ 

After living together at Fourth and Pico for a year or so, Ashby, 
Grow, and the other Ogden boys went their separate ways. Grow moved 
to a single room elsewhere in the house, while Ashby ended up in a small 

Los Angeles 


$7-a-week room in Bunker Hill. The two friends subsequently grew 
apart. Two or three years later, when Grow was living in Hollywood, 
Ashby came round with a girlfriend and drove the three of them down 
to Tijuana for a day trip in his convertible. That was the last time Grow 
saw Ashby. 

Ashby went into the world knowing that his future lay out there but 
uncertain of what it would be. He ended up working as a salesman but 
was not cut out for the job. Though he had the charm, he was uneasy 
selling products he knew were inferior to people who didn't deserve to 
be shortchanged. He tried selling magazines, encyclopedias, brushes, 
and more besides but was always troubled by his conscience. "You were 
always doing a con, telling a lie," he said. "I don't like telling lies."^^ 

After his move to Los Angeles, Ashby had remained in contact with 
Janice Austin. She thought of him as her sweetheart, though Ashby may 
have viewed things as slightly more casual. She came down to visit him a 
couple of times and recalls that on one occasion he took her for a meal at 
a fancy nightclub where the renowned bandleader Woody Herman was 
playing and even got Herman to pose with them for a picture. Not long 
after this, Ashby stopped replying to Janice's letters. To find out why, she 
drove down to Los Angeles with her mother and brother. "I remember 
us sitting in Pershing Square while my brother went to see Hal," she 
recalls. "When he came back, [I was told] Hal said he didn't want to see 
me. I just figured he'd met someone else.'"^ 

She was right, as around that time Ashby got married for the second 
time. Little is known about the marriage, but what is certain is that on 
July 25, 1949, Hal Ashby married one Maxine Marie Armstrong in Las 
Vegas. "[I was] married and divorced twice before I made it to twenty- 
one," Ashby claimed in an article he wrote for Action magazine.^* If this 
is indeed true, then Ashby (whose twenty-first birthday was on Septem- 
ber 2, 1950) cannot have been married to Maxine for much more than 
a year. 

After Hal and Maxine were married, Eileen asked them to come back 
to Ogden. Jack and Beth had moved temporarily to Portland, Oregon, 
and Eileen wanted help running the store, which was now an ice-cream 
parlor and restaurant called Ashby's Ice Cream. Hal and Maxine moved 
into an apartment in Ogden and helped out at the store. It seems likely 


Being Hal Ashby 

that Eileen had twisted Hal's arm to get him to come back; he had, after 
all, claimed that Southern California was to be his home for life. 

Despite what he might have hoped he could do for Eileen, Ashby 
knew he could never be the dutiful son who takes over his aging mother's 
store. Almost inevitably, things didn't work out. Hal regretted coming 
back to Ogden and quarreled with Eileen. Over the years, he would re- 
peatedly and sincerely tell her in letters how he loved her and how much 
her opinion meant to him, but whenever they spent prolonged periods 
of time together, their relationship became fraught and troubled. In the 
end, it was probably just a few months that Ashby and Maxine worked 
at the store as it quickly became obvious that it wasn't working out. The 
newlyweds returned to California, and Eileen sold the store soon after. 

Back in Los Angeles, Ashby's marriage to Maxine fizzled out. During 
their time in Ogden, Maxine had had an abortion (most likely at Ashby's 
request), which seems to have been the beginning of the end for them. 
Ashby knew what he didn't want, namely, more children, but was no 
nearer to finding his true direction in life. "I was a kid looking for some- 
thing," he said, "but I didn't know what. The movie business seemed like 
a terrific thing to get into."'' 

Though he went there only because it was free, it was the State 
Employment Office in Van Nuys that helped Ashby get his foot in the 
door. "I got my first job [in movies] through the State Employment De- 
partment," he recalled. "Like a jerk I went down there and told them I 
wanted to get into motion pictures, and that woman looked at me like 
'What the hell is that?' and started going through the little index file 
and said, 'Well, here's something.' So I said, 'All right — I'm willing to 
start at the bottom.' 'Well,' she said, 'here's something at Universal with 
a Multilith machine. Do you know what that is?' And I said, 'No.' So 
she said, 'Do you know what a mimeograph machine is? Well, it's like a 
mimeograph machine. They don't particularly want experience.'"^" 

Ashby went to his local library to read up on the mechanics of a 
mimeograph (a hand-cranked copying machine) so as to be a proficient 
employee when he started the job a few days later. He quickly grew 
very comfortable at Universal, and although the job copying scripts was 
repetitive and undemanding, Ashby saw only opportunity around him. 
He says that, "like any red-blooded American,"^' he "looked around 

Los Angeles 


and said, 'What's the best job around here?'"^^ In his mind, it was a 

Ashby was very keen, and the kid in the ink-spotted smock from 
the copy department became well-known for his pleasing manner and 
willingness to learn. Starting at the bottom meant that almost every- 
body knew more than he did, so he talked to people whenever he could 
and began to learn about the possible routes to becoming a director. 
He initially considered training to be an assistant director, but he soon 
learned that there was a better route. The directors he spoke to kept 
repeating the same advice. "Get into editing," they told him. "With edit- 
ing, everything is up there on film for you to see over and over again. 
You can study it and ask why you like it, and why you don't. 

During his time at Universal, Ashby made it his aim to learn as much 
as he could about editing. He befriended staff in the editing department, 
ran errands for them, and became their unofficial coffee boy. Editors 
seemed to work longer hours than everybody else, so Ashby would com- 
plete his copying and then hang out with them in the cutting rooms. He 
sat and watched the editors as they worked and eventually was allowed 
to stay on after everybody had left. By learning how to splice film to- 
gether, cleaning the Moviolas and the other equipment, and even doing 
some tentative editing himself, he learned the basics of the trade. 

Ashby developed a feel for editing and with it a passion for the 
process. One night when he was out drinking in Los Angeles with Bob 
Ballantyne, his old friend from Ogden, Ashby insisted on taking him 
to the building where he worked. He excitedly told Ballantyne about 
editing, the art and science of it, the precision required, and the cre- 
ativity it allowed. "Along with describing what film editing involved he 
said, 'You know, you can even win an Oscar for film editing, if you're 
good enough,'" Ballantyne recalls. "My immediate thoughts were, 'He's 
dreaming.' But I said, 'Oh, really!'" Though Ashby was "wobbling from 
too much booze, "^■^ he seemed to Ballantyne more affected by his love of 
editing than by the alcohol. 

When telling the story of Ashby's life, people often make the as- 
sumption that he progressed smoothly through the ranks from copyboy 
to assistant editor, to editor, to director, as if a conveyor belt was car- 
rying him there. This misconception was reinforced by studio biogra- 
phies of Ashby, something that amused and exasperated him: "It always 


Being Hal Ashby 

amazes me how they compress years of pain and frustration into two 
sentences."^' The truth is that the job at Universal came to an end, and 
it was not an easy transition from Multilith to Moviola. In order to get 
work as an editor, Ashby would have to join the union and serve an 
eight-year apprenticeship, and to even be admitted into the union, he 
needed a prominent editor to vouch for him. In the end, he realized he 
would simply have to go back to normal, everyday work. He would bide 
his time and wait for his opportunity to come. 

Writing about the struggle to become a success in Hollywood, Sammy 
Davis Jr. once remarked: "I have got jobs for dozens of other people on 
the fringes to keep them in contact with films. The director Hal Ashby, 
for instance, lived at my place for a while when he was working as a third 
assistant in the cutting room. He made his way up to the huge success 
he is today — by learning his craft from the bottom."^* Ashby wouldn't 
become an assistant editor until the mid-1950s, but he and Davis became 
friends and companions in the early part of the decade following his 
return from Ogden. Throughout his career, Ashby met and befriended 
talented people, but in many cases — that of Davis included — Ashby knew 
them before they were famous. In the 1950s, he was part of a tight group 
of bohemian friends, almost all of whom went on to achieve success in 
their respective fields. 

Ashby was introduced to Davis by another friend, Steve Allen, the 
comedian, songwriter, author, and future Tonight Show creator, whom 
he listened to in the early days of his KNX radio show and whose comic 
sensibility was similar to Ashby's own. At the time, Davis was still in 
the Will Mastin Trio alongside his father and uncle, whom he had been 
performing with since he was first able to walk. Ashby arguably loved 
musicians and their music much more than movie stars. And despite his 
sheltered, small-town upbringing, he never displayed the racist attitude 
that was so prevalent at that time. A hippie before the word was coined, 
Ashby looked at the person, not the skin color, and was troubled by 
the unenlightened minds of most Americans. One of Ashby's girlfriends 
from the 1950s, Gloria Flaum, remembers his concern about "discrimi- 
nation and a lot of things that were going on. Hal was pretty politically 
motivated. I know he read the poetry of [Carl] Sandburg, and marched 
on a black protest march in the South. "^^ 

Los Angeles 


Ashby and Davis went on the road together, with "Billy Hal" (as 
Davis called Ashby) acting as a secretary-cum-manager. Davis struggled 
tremendously against the bigotry that Americans at the time thought 
was acceptable: onstage he was praised and applauded, but after the 
show he was treated as grossly inferior by the white audiences who had 
been enjoying his act only moments before. In the first volume of his au- 
tobiography, Davis wrote about repeatedly coming across signs outside 
hotels saying things such as "No Niggers — No Dogs" and "Everybody 
Welcome but the Nigger and the Jew,"^* and Ashby would tell his friend 
Bill Box about the times he was refused entry to hotels simply because 
Davis, a black man, was with him. Ashby was working for Davis (though 
he was not with him) at the time Davis lost his eye in a horrific car acci- 
dent and was one of the first by his bedside in the hospital. "He thought 
a great deal of Sammy," recalled Hal's third wife, Mickey. "He was close 
to Sammy's family; he was like one of the family, even. They were very 
good friends."^'' 

Along with working at a button factory, several department stores, 
and a soda fountain (where he apparently drank more than he earned), 
going on the road with Davis was one of numerous jobs that he took in 
the 1950s just to keep the money coming in, but afterward Ashby and 

Sammy remained friends. During this period, Ashby met the people who 
would form the core of his life for the rest of the decade, the kindred 
spirits who would help him become the person he had always wanted 
to be. 

Ashby's bohemian inner circle was made up of Bill Box, an aspiring 
cartoonist and writer. Bill Otto, who would end up in advertising, Ian 
Bernard, a jazz pianist and later a writer, and John Mandel, another 
jazz musician. Piecing together the story of their youthful exploits is 
something of a challenge because, as Bernard confesses, they were all 
smoking too much marijuana. 

Shortly before he met Bill Box, Ashby was working as a secretary. 
He first worked for a businessman called John Brokaw who was rumored 
to own oil wells. Ashby not only took on secretarial and management 
duties for Brokaw but even painted the bathroom in his boss's West 
Hollywood apartment. Brokaw was neither a conventional nor a reliable 
boss, and once when he and Ashby were in Las Vegas on business, he 
was arrested for making what Box calls an "aggressive approach" to 


Being Hal Ashby 

singer Lena Horne.^" Ashby and Brokaw's partnership ended abruptly 
one night, when Brokaw packed up his things and left, never to be seen 

Ashby moved on to a job at a debt-consolidation agency in Hol- 
lywood run by a man called Ray Kline who managed two rising singers. 

Abbey Lincoln and Pam Garner, and didn't actually want to be in the 
debt-consolidation business. Neither, for that matter, did Ashby, who 
spent as much time as he could away from his desk, socializing with his 
coworkers. One of Ashby's favorite colleagues was Betty Gumm, and 
he would happily spend long periods sitting on the floor by her desk, 
cracking jokes. "Hal, we've gotta work, and all you're doing is making 
me laugh all day," she used to tell him. " 

Through another colleague. Bill Otto (known as "Blotto," a slang 
term for drunk), Ashby became friends with Bill Box. Box had been park- 
ing cars at a restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard, but crippling arthritis 
forced him to give up the job. Ashby, Otto, and the immobilized Box 
ended up living together in Beverly Glen, up in the Hollywood Hills. 

While Box was housebound, he killed time by doodling and drawing 
cartoons inspired by jazz, one of the group's great shared passions. Box 
had always loved cartooning and saw the potential to turn his tempo- 
rary incapacitation to his advantage. Along with a friend. Bill Kennedy, 
an aspiring singer whom he had met while parking cars, he started the 
Box Card Company in 1953, producing cards with bebop and hipster 
cartoons and slogans like "Keep Cool This Yule." Though Bernard and 
Mandel were playing jazz regularly at that time. Box was really the first 
to find a path to success, arguably providing an example for the others 
and further fueling their ambition. Everybody in the group helped out 
with the company when they could, and Ashby was part of the "night 
crew" who wrapped cards for Box. 

While they all worked hard to reach their goals, they also had fun 
when they were not working. Ashby and his friends regularly went to the 
Coronet, a small repertory theater on La Cienega, where they watched 
classic Hollywood films. If they were feeling particularly flush, they 
would buy a good dinner, then spend the evening at Giro's, a favorite 
nightclub of Hollywood's big names. Sometimes they would drive down 
to the Lighthouse jazz club in Hermosa Beach, and Bernard would sit in 
with whichever of his friends, such as West Coast luminaries Jerry Mul- 

Los Angeles 


ligan and Chet Baker, was playing that night. Ashby, Bernard, and the 
two Bills also regularly went to Restaurant Row on La Cienega, where 
there was a lounge bar with a singer every fifty yards. They frequented 
the Captain's Table, the Encore, the Tally Ho. "We were just exuberant 
youths, four or five of us out having a good time together," remembers 
Bernard. "We hung out at all the bars, and I had an apartment just 
above La Cienega, so it was very convenient. We should have all been 
dead probably because we were always driving with alcohol!"^^ Ashby in 
particular was lucky to have survived: he would drink to excess and then 
drive his 1949 Ford without any shock absorbers or springs. 

In addition to drinking a lot, Ashby and his friends discovered 
marijuana when they came to Los Angeles. Or, as Bernard puts it, they 
collectively "grew up on weed." Ashby started smoking grass a year or 
so after he arrived in Los Angeles and continued to do so for almost 
forty years. (Some of his friends would blend his two names into one, 
calling him "Hashby.") Box and Bernard quit smoking marijuana a year 
or so later, but Bernard confesses, "We should have been fat with all 
the chocolate cake we ate! In those days, Ashby and the rest of us were 
smoking a lot of pot, you know? Ashby was the champion: he pretty 
much had a joint in his hand at all times."^^ John Mandel has happy 
memories of the group watching the television talent show Rocket to 
Stardom "stoned out of our heads, "'"* while Box nicknamed one of the 
places they lived during that period "The Happy House" because of all 
the pot they smoked there. Once when one of their less worldly friends 
came round and asked what the curious smell was, quick as a flash Ashby 
said, "We made some pea soup, and we burned it."^^ 

Bernard stresses that the marijuana was weak compared to modern 
standards but admits that Ashby still overindulged: "I think he smoked 
weed to excess. But it wasn't a negative effect that it had on him, it just 
meant he got sillier and sillier. And I never, in all those years, saw Hal as 
a depressed person or a loner."^*" Yet while Bernard did not see his darker 
moments, Ashby did not manage to hide them from everybody. 

Ashby and his new crowd were all fans of J. D. Salinger's The Catcher 
in the Rye, whose narrator famously does not want to discuss "where I 
was born, and what my lousy childhood was like and how my parents 
were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield 
crap."^^ Ashby did not feel like going into any David Copperfield crap 


Being Hal Ashby 

either, and with his group of Ogden friends having dispersed, he was 
relieved to have new friends who were unaware of his unhappy past. 

"None of us knew anything about his life before we met him," 
Bernard recalls. "None of us knew that he'd had children, none of us 
knew he'd been married before — not a damn thing. But Gloria started 
seeing the effect of Ashby's failure to deal with issues from his past: 
"He was very, very moody, and he could be so funny, I mean unbe- 
lievably funny. And then turn around and be every bit as moody and 
heavy." Gloria dated Ashby for some time and once met his mother ("a 
wonderful lady") when she came down to visit. After Eileen's stay, it 
became clear to her that his unexpected bouts of depression were rooted 
in unresolved problems from his troubled adolescence: "It was strange, 
because he could have you in stitches, but alone with him, he had a lot 
of dark moments. He'd become very, very upset and very down. It could 
be prompted by very little, because I don't think it was what was hap- 
pening at the moment, I think it was stuff that he was carrying around 
about his father and his mother. I think that Hal had some deep feelings 
about his father's suicide and resentments about his mother, and I'm 
not sure exactly why, except that I'm sure it caused him a great deal of 

As he grew closer to his group of friends, Ashby learned that he 
was not the only one with a tragic incident in his past. Bill Otto's father 
had died young, and Otto blamed his mother for pushing him to work 
himself into an early grave. Clyde Wilson, a friend of Box's from his 
hometown of Bremerton, Washington, had come home one day to find 
his father had shot his mother and then turned the gun on himself. There 
was a kinship between the three of them, but Ashby revealed very little 
even to them. His persistent refusal to talk about his problems and ac- 
cept help when it was offered resulted in him struggling with the demons 
of his past for the rest of his life. He could ignore them for periods of 
time, but when things went awry in his professional or personal life, 
it would become unbearable for him, as if the weight of the world had 
suddenly fallen on him. 

Possibly as a way of papering over the cracks, Ashby threw himself 
into whatever work he was doing, trying to make money while he waited 
for his editing break. He was seemingly willing to pursue even the most 
unlikely business opportunities. He went to the Los Angeles Exhibition 

Los Angeles 


Center to sell rubberized floor mats and became involved with Clyde in 
an equally oddball moneymaking scheme. "Clyde reveals one day that 
he has this furniture polish or household cleaning product," recalls Box, 
"and it worked really well. Somehow he had the rights to it, and Hal 
saw this as an opportunity. So he went to Washington state with Clyde 
to see if they could do something with that, but I think nothing came 
of that. I think he would have welcomed some kind of entrepreneurial 

Ashby no doubt was frustrated to be selling household goods rather 
than doing something he was passionate about, but his sense of humor 
(he was "the champion giggler of all time," according to Bernard)''^ and 
enjoyment of life kept him going. "Hal had little or no cash assets but he 
was loaded in the humor department," says Box. "And when the mood 
struck him he could have you rolling on the floor. "''^ Ashby had a very 
idiosyncratic way of looking at life, comic, but with a philosophical 
slant. One day in the kitchen of the house in Beverly Glen, he suddenly 
said, "I earn $35 a week, and where does it go? Right down this garbage 
disposal. If this garbage disposal were an animal, it'd be the strongest 
beast on the face of the earth. "'^^ 

His enthusiasm for the arts was also infectious and revealed in him 
a knack for storytelling. "He was wonderful when he was talking about 
having seen Guys and Dolls or read some book and [would] retell it so 
wonderfully well," enthuses Box. "It was a real treat. He remembered 
things in great detail and was so enthusiastic about them. His monologues 
created little scenes and characters."'*'* Ashby had an incredible memory 
for the things that interested him — he loved Broadway shows, bought 
the LPs of musicals, and knew all the words to West Side Story — and 
it was this talent that helped him bring stories so fully to life. Because 
listening to one of his descriptions was so enjoyable. Box says, the "book 
he talked about or the film he had seen might not always live up to Hal's 
colorful telling of it."''' Mandel also remembers Hal's enthusiasm and 
his great interest not only in art but also in people: "He was great to be 
with. He had a tremendous curiosity about everything and was really 
interested in people. He was unlike anyone I'd ever met."'"' 

A number of Ashby's friends, including Bill Otto and Ian Bernard, 
ended up living at the Sunset Colonial Hotel, a place that became "a 
center for the young Turks," according to Bernard.'*'' The author John 


Being Hal Ashby 

Ridley describes the hotel as "ground zero for a bushel of fresh-off-the- 
bus actor and actress types . . . [who hadj headed west with a lot of ideas 
on becoming stars . . . but not a single plan on how to reach their desti- 
nation.'"'* It was seedy and therefore cheap, but Ashby had friends and 
other like-minded dreamers all around. What's more, they knew how to 
have fun. When Bill Otto got married, Ashby and Bernard snuck into 
the groom's room on the day of the ceremony and took all the furniture 
out of it. "When he came home from his honeymoon to spend the night 
there," laughs Bernard, "there wasn't a stick of furniture in the room. 
Not even a bed. He wasn't that pleased.'"" 

Sammy Davis Jr., now a rising star, also had an apartment at the 
Sunset Colonial. Ashby and Davis would hang out with actors Byron 
Kane and Jeff Chandler, and the four formed a club called "The Face 
Men of America," the name apparently referring to a certain shared 
sexual preference. Because Davis spent so much time on the road, he was 
only an occasional member of Ashby's gang but was still considered one 
of them. Bill Box remembers being invited along with Ashby to a party 
thrown by Davis after the recording of his hit song "Hey There" and 
seeing Sammy, one of the fastest draws in the business, showing off by 
twirling a pair of pistols and slamming them in their holsters. Over the 
years, Davis disappeared from the group as other friends became more 
important to him. "After he became a Rat Packer, he moved in different 
circles and I believe was corrupted by his own self importance," says 
Bernard. "Surrounded by sycophants, he forgot the 'little people.'"™ 

However, those in Ashby's circle were becoming successful too. The 
Box Card Company continued to thrive, and Box also started doing art- 
work for jazz albums put out by Mode Records. Ian Bernard cowrote and 
arranged the acclaimed albums Rain or Shine (1955) and Moondreams 
(1957) for singer Dick Haymes, with the latter release also featuring 
John Mandel. In the mid-1950s, Ashby himself made an appearance on 
a popular television show hosted by Art Linkletter called People Are 
Funny, a precursor to reality television that got its contestants to perform 
outrageous or zany stunts for the audience's amusement. According to 
Box, Ashby was given a relatively appealing task: the show sent flowers, 
chocolates, and other love offerings from "Your secret admirer" (i.e., 
Ashby) to an unsuspecting girl, and Ashby's mission was simply to bring 
her back to the show, which he succeeded in doing. 

Los Angeles 


Bill Otto's activities in the entertainment world, however, were to 
prove most important for Ashby. Otto acted as assistant to production 
on a film called No Place to Hide, which was shot in Manila at the end of 
1954. Won over by the director-producer-writer Josef Shaftel's big plans 
for the film (which were based around the exotic location and stars Mar- 
sha Hunt and David Brian), Otto invested the remainder of his inheri- 
tance in the film. Shaftel's pitch must have been particularly convincing 
as Otto was famously tight. "Canter's was one of our favorite places to 
eat, and we loved to go out to eat breakfast there," Ashby's future wife 
Mickey recalls, "but nine times out of ten, when the bill came [Otto] 
would say, 'Oh gosh, I seem to have forgotten my wallet. . . ."'" No Place 
to Hide would eventually be released in 1956, almost two years later, 
and be consigned to B-movie obscurity rather than the marquee success 
its makers had hoped for. Otto unfortunately lost most of his investment, 
but it was through his connection with Shaftel that Ashby got his chance 
to break into editing and start that slow rise to the top. 


Doors Open . . . 

It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly. What is 
essential is invisible to the eye. 

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Frince (1943) 

I received my reward that rainy night when you decided to 
hire me as the fourth assistant on The Big Country. That, as 
they say, is when it all really started to happen. 
— Hal Ashby (to Robert Swink) 

Before the box-office failure of No Place to Hide curtailed Bill Otto's 
relationship with Josef Shaftel, the director rushed another film into 
production. The Naked Hills (1956), shot with the working title The 
Four Seasons, was a Western, again written, directed, and produced by 
Shaftel, starring character actors Keenan Wynn and Jim Backus. Shoot- 
ing began in the fall of 1955 at Republic, the biggest of the Poverty Row 
studios, and Otto brought Ashby and Bill Box along to watch. 

Determined to make the most of the opportunity, Ashby volunteered 
to carry cans of film and soon was hired as an assistant editor. It was 
a B-movie job that no doubt paid almost nothing, but it was a foot in 
the door. Working alongside chief editor Gene Fowler Jr. (the son of 
screenwriter and novelist Gene Fowler), Ashby spent every available mo- 
ment in the cutting room, absorbing as much of Fowler's knowledge 
and expertise as he could. "We shared a house, but I barely saw Hal, he 
worked so hard," Bill Box remembers. "He would be up before I was in 
the morning, off to work, and then at night come in, just grab a bite to 
eat and then go to bed because he was working into the night." ^ 

Ashby's entry into the editing world marked the start of a period 
when work took precedence over everything else. At the age of twenty- 
six, he was now entirely focused on becoming a full-fledged editor and 


Doors Open . 


then realizing his ultimate dream of becoming a director. Though he 
would marry three more times and have many love affairs, from this 
point on his great passion was for his work. (Ironically, The Naked 
Hills is about a man who, for the majority of his life, lets his hunger 
for success jeopardize any chance of happiness that he might have with 
his wife and child. At the end of the film, the aging and down-on-his- 
luck protagonist finally realizes that it is love, not money, that he truly 
wanted all along.) 

After this first editing job, Ashby applied to the Society of Motion 
Picture Film Editors, probably with Fowler's backing, in order to join 
the union. Editing was not a huge field, so the union was very careful 
about whom it allowed to join, but the timing was good, and Ashby was 
accepted. Thus he began the eight-year union-recognized apprenticeship 
that would allow him to work his way through the ranks. 

By the time Ashby graduated from this arduous school of editing 
and became a director, his cinematic contemporaries were ten years his 
junior, fresh-faced film school grads with no concept of the effort he 
spent getting where he was. Looking back on his own experiences, he 
discouraged aspiring young directors from taking the editorial route: 
"You had to lie and cheat and do everything you could just to work. Of 
course, I would do editing on the side, and so forth, just to be into it 
and doing it. It was a tremendously debilitating thing. It is the members 
themselves, out of that tremendous desire to protect what they consider 
their livelihoods. They don't get into anything creative at all in their 
minds, except for a handful."^ 

Ashby described his apprenticeship as a "a trip and a half, ... a 
full-out struggle," but it was well worth it for the education it gave him, 
not only in editing, but also in directing: "When film comes into a cut- 
ting room, it holds all the work and efforts of everyone involved up to 
that point. The staging, writing, acting, photography, sets, lighting, and 
sound. It is all there to be studied again and again and again, until you 
really know why it's good, or why it isn't. This doesn't tell you what's 
going on inside a director, or how he manages to get it from head to 
film, but it sure is a good way to observe the results, and the knowledge 
gained is invaluable."^ 

Around the same time he joined the editing union, Ashby entered 
into another kind of union. He was still dating Gloria Flaum when John 


Being Hal Ashby 

Mandel introduced him to a neighbor of his in Beachwood Canyon 
called Maloy Bartron, or Mickey to her friends. Ashby usually went for 
blonde, sweet, innocent types, and Mickey had short, black hair and 
was cute and playful with a tough edge. However, she was Ashby's age 
and a bohemian too, and something undeniably clicked between them. 

Though they quickly fell in love, Ashby and Mickey's relationship 
may have begun on a professional basis. Mickey was a painter, but her 
art didn't make her much money, and she paid her bills working as a 
high-class Hollywood call girl. Mickey was an orphan who had been 
adopted by a couple who didn't understand her and whom she grew to 
resent, so coming to Los Angeles and not having to answer to anyone 
was a huge release for her. She was extremely sexually confident and 
had freely chosen to become a call girl because, as she would say, the 
job allowed her to sleep in every morning and work when she wanted. 
She had a telephone exchange where clients left messages for her, but she 
always had the option to say no. Her little black book contained only 
the names of high rollers, allegedly including Frank Sinatra, Desi Arnaz, 
and George Raft. 

One Sunday afternoon, when Mickey and Ashby and the rest of the 
gang were gathered together at somebody's house, the two of them went 
down to have a look at Ian Bernard's new MG. It was the first time they 
connected, and their first "episode," as Mickey called it, was on the 
back seat of that very car. Mandel had suspected that they would click, 
and indeed Hal and Mickey quickly became a couple. Gloria, who was 
oblivious to the developments, was justifiably angry when she found out. 
According to Gloria, she and Mickey "overlapped" as she and Ashby 
either were still together or had only just broken up at the time. Mickey, 
who later became good friends with Gloria, recalls that she "went bal- 
listic when she came home one day and found out.'"* 

Despite having rushed into two short-lived marriages, Ashby was 
overcome by the intoxication of falling in love and proposed to Mickey 
almost immediately. He was deliberate, thoughtful, and considered in 
most other things, but when he fell in love, he surrendered to the feeling 
completely. "We had so much in common," says Mickey. "He had his 
film thing, I had my painting thing, we both loved jazz, we were both 
'heads' — it all fitted in!"^ On August 4, 1956, the couple were married 
in Laguna Beach, a seaside town an hour's drive down the Pacific coast 
from Los Angeles. They had been together for less than a month. 

Doors Open . 


During the early stages of the marriage, the couple struggled finan- 
cially: Ashby had insisted that Mickey give up her job as soon as they 
became "exclusive," but he couldn't get steady editing work. He ended 
up getting them both jobs at the debt- consolidation agency where he 
had worked previously. Because he knew Ray Kline, "we just walked 
into the job," Mickey remembers. "But first I had to promise not to 
tell people because it fell short of his own standards, and the people 
we knew would criticize him for it. It didn't fit into the persona that he 
wanted."* Fortunately, Ashby soon got a job as an assistant editor at 
Walt Disney Pictures, where most likely he worked on television rather 
than film projects. 

Early on in the marriage, Ashby and Mickey lived with Bill Otto in 
Laurel Canyon, up in the Hollywood Hills. As well as being a jazz afi- 
cionado and a keen reader. Otto was an avid amateur photographer and 
had a darkroom in the house. He and Mickey shared a mutual admira- 
tion of each other's artistic abilities: he was a great fan of her paintings, 
while she got heavily into photography, quickly becoming, as she put 
it, a "darkroom baby."^ Mickey was the only woman in Ashby 's inner 
circle of friends, but she loved having the guys around and being in the 
company of other creative people. 

While Mickey was holed up in the darkroom, Ashby was spending 
increasingly long hours in darkened editing rooms. He was good at be- 
coming friends with the right people, and one job led to another. His first 
major studio editing job came when one of the chief editors at Disney, 
Ellsworth Hoagland, brought Ashby with him to United Artists. The 
film was director Stanley Kramer's The Pride and the Passion (1957), 
starring Gary Grant, Frank Sinatra, and Sophia Loren, and though the 
editing work he did was technical rather than creative, he made a posi- 
tive impression while he had the chance. "He could read people well; 
that was why he could charm people," Mickey says.* During the course 
of the editing of The Pride and the Passion, Ashby not only made a 
lifelong friend in fellow editor Bob Lawrence, who almost thirty years 
later would work for Ashby on 8 Million Ways to Die, but also made 
contacts at United Artists that led to his next job. 

During the first few years of his marriage to Mickey, Ashby's career 
was progressing well, and he and Mickey were very happy. There was an 
ease to their relationship not only because of Ashby's laid-back personal- 
ity but also because they were so well matched. He had initially swept 


Being Hal Ashby 

Mickey off her feet, but once the excitement of the romance began to 
lessen, she found that he was gentle, sensitive, and easygoing. Ashby 
was interested in Eastern mysticism, aspired to be as peaceful as one 
of his idols, Gandhi, and was generous to a fault. The happier he was, 
the more his sense of humor came to the fore, and he and Mickey had 
great fun together, really relishing each other's company. Ian Bernard 
and his wife, Judith, used to come round, and the four of them would 
stay up late, drinking and laughing, and often recording their conversa- 
tions. They would then meet up again the next night and fall about with 
laughter listening to what they had said. But despite his happiness with 
Mickey, Ashby's demons remained. "He had a darker side which didn't 
come out often, but when it did it, it really did," Mickey remembers. 
"He'd pound his head on the wall. When he got out of it, he really got 
out of it."' 

With his focus on his career, Ashby spent huge amounts of time 
working, but this did not seem to have a negative effect on his marriage. 
Mickey shared Ashby's love of cinema (she would later end up working 
as a sound-effects editor), and as an artist she understood his dedication 
to his craft. When Eileen came to stay with them, Ashby hardly saw her, 
which Mickey suspects was because "she wasn't in a position to further 
his career in any way. That was the way he was."^" 

This attitude won Ashby a job as fifth assistant editor on William 
Wyler's epic Western The Big Country (1958), where he worked under 
Bob Swink, the chief editor on every one of Wyler's films since Detective 
Story (1951). Wyler was a double Oscar winner for Mrs. Miniver (1942) 
and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and one of the most powerful 
directors in Hollywood. His relationship with Swink was as notable for 
its mutual trust and respect as for its unpredictable volatility. Wyler was 
known as "Forty-Take Wyler" and "Once More Wyler" because of the 
huge amount of film he shot, and Ashby, a noted hard worker, was hired 
because so many cutters were required. 

Ashby once said, "My life changed when I met William Wyler and 
some others. Then all the doors opened, like in a movie."" The experi- 
ence prompted a radical change in the way he thought about film, which 
he began to see as "the wildest, most exciting medium of all." On Ashby's 
very first day on The Big Country, one of the editors had assembled a 
rough cut of one reel of the film, so Wyler and his whole editing crew 

Doors Open . 


assembled in the projection room to look at it. Wyler stood up in front 
of everybody and, for the benefit of Ashby, the new boy, said, "If you 
have any ideas . . . any ... no matter how wild they might seem, get them 
out. I, or we, might argue with you, and tell you it's a dumb idea and 
you are a dumb son of a bitch . . . but that doesn't matter because the 
heat of our anger comes only from the desire to make a good film. You 
must understand how we all feel about this film, and know in your heart 
that the words said in anger have nothing to do with anything personal. 
It will sound that way because we are driven by those strong feelings, 
and we don't take the time to be polite, but personal it isn't. So get those 
ideas out in the open and remember, the only thing any of us wants out 
of all this is to make a good film.'"^ 

This blew Ashby's mind. It was a thrill to be working with somebody 
of Wyler's stature but even more of one to feel so welcomed into the 
process. Never before had he been considered important enough to offer 
an opinion. In previous jobs, he had been told: "Whatever they say, don't 
open your mouth. Don't you say a word."'' Wyler, however, believed in 
collaborative filmmaking, in which everybody was considered signifi- 
cant enough to contribute, and it was a working method that Ashby fell 
in love with and would employ himself when he became a director. He 
conceded that there was "a lot of yelling, hollering and swearing that 
went on down in those cutting rooms, but there was also about eighteen 
tons of love floating around there, too!"''* 

Though he would later say that he wished he had an editor he could 
work with as well as Wyler did with Swink, he admitted that he had 
"never seen anybody have arguments the way they had arguments."'^ 
Swink told him stories of the massive fallings-out they had working on 
Roman Holiday (1953), and Ashby saw incidents where their constant 
needling led to shouting matches and Swink throwing reels of film on 
the floor. 

Three months or so after shooting finished, a rough cut had been 
assembled, and Wyler, Swink, and the editing crew gathered in Projec- 
tion Room A in Goldwyn Studios to watch the twenty-eight-reel version 
of the film (approximately four and a half hours long). After fourteen 
reels, the crew took a break for dinner. As Ashby was the most junior 
person there, food had not been provided for him, so he stayed where he 
was. He waited for the crew to return and was still waiting at 11:30 p.m. 


Being Hal Ashby 

when Bob Belcher, one of the principal editors, came in and asked him 
why he was still there. 

"I'm waiting for them to come back and we finish running the pic- 
ture," replied Ashby. "They've only run the first fourteen reels." 

"Oh, God," said Belcher, realizing Ashby hadn't heard what had 
happened. "They're not coming back." 

"Why?" asked Ashby. 

"Bob quit."i« 

During the meal, Wyler and Swink had been discussing the first half 
of the film and had a huge argument that ended with Swink walking out 
on the film. Nevertheless, he came in the next day and got on with the 

job at hand. 

The flip side to Wyler's belligerence was his subversive sense of humor, 
which Ashby experienced firsthand. He recalled with great amusement a 
time when Wyler had asked his opinion on an editing matter. Ashby was 
rambling on somewhat, as he was prone to do, when he noticed that 
Wyler had an object in his hand, something like a watch fob, which he 
was spinning. "And as he would spin it," Ashby recalled, "you could see 
that it said 'Piss On You.' Needless to say, I wasn't sure how he took my 
thing." 17 

Though Wyler's reactions didn't always inspire confidence, the 
veteran director started Ashby thinking not only technically but also 
emotionally and creatively. As a result, Ashby felt greatly attached and 
committed to Big Country. When the film previewed in San Francisco, 
he was one of the few not brought along by Wyler, but he nevertheless 
paid his own way to attend the screening. Wyler was so impressed that 
Ashby was there that he had his expenses reimbursed. Everybody settled 
down to watch the film, and all was going well until, about an hour or 
so into the film, one of the reels went out of sync. It took a group of 
nervous editors almost ten minutes to rethread the negative and sort out 
the problem, by which time, as Ashby recalled, "a lot of people had come 
out to the popcorn stand to get candy and popcorn and so forth. And 
when they started the picture back up again, there was Willy running 
around in the lobby saying to people, 'The picture's started again, the 
picture's started again,' forcing them back into the theater! There was 
no question about it: he wasn't polite, he was just grabbing them and 
throwing them back in! It was hysterical." 

Doors Open . 


Ashby was learning by example all along, and seeing Wyler's pas- 
sion for his films reinforced his certainty that this was where he wanted 
to be. Encouragingly, there were a number of editors who had gone on 
to direct, most famously David Lean and Robert Wise, and Ashby had 
only to look around him to see others who had done so. The first editor 
he had worked under, Gene Fowler Jr., had progressed to directing and 
by the end of the decade had made a clutch of films, such as / Was a 
Teenage Werewolf (1957) and / Married a Monster from Outer Space 
(1958), that were bound for classic B-movie status. One of the senior 
editors he had worked alongside at Walt Disney, Basil Wrangell, had 
combined editing with directing short films, second-unit material, televi- 
sion shows, and even a few features and was about to direct Cinerama's 
South Seas Adventure (1958). But there was another example even closer 
to home: Bob Swink. 

Swink was desperate to become a director like Wyler, and the love- 
hate relationship between the two was greatly fueled by this desire. Wyler 
encouraged Swink by allowing him to shoot second unit on Big Country 
and Friendly Persuasion (1956) and, when he was too ill to make it to 
the set, had Swink oversee directorial duties on the latter for a few days. 
But though Wyler tantalized Swink with tidbits of directing work, he 
needed him as his editor and never really intended to let him go. 

It wasn't just their shared dream of directing that bonded Ashby 
and Swink. In Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind asserts that 
the absence of Ashby's father in his life from age twelve onward led 
him to seek out paternal substitutes, namely, Swink and, later, Norman 
Jewison. While there is definitely truth in this, Ashby and Swink were 
also particularly well-matched professional partners. In Swink, Ashby 
saw a master editor and mentor figure who could take him up through 
the system; Ashby, conversely, was the ideal pupil, a keen young man 
quickly becoming a skilled editor who, like Swink, was willing to work 
incredibly long hours to get the job done. 

Ashby worked throughout the week but devoted weekends to Mickey 
and his friends. Ian Bernard had moved to Laguna Beach in 1956, and it 
was only a matter of time before Bill Box, and then Ashby and Mickey, 
followed. The Ashbys rented an apartment in Villa Rockledge, a beauti- 
ful cliffside house on the seafront. Both Mickey and Ashby loved it: she 
could paint at her leisure and soon had a little menagerie of animals 


Being Hal Ashby 

made up of the strays that always seemed to gravitate toward her, and 
he was thrilled to be near the ocean. Bernard says the house was "a joy" 
to Ashby: "That's one thing I'll say, he did love the ocean. He never sat 
out and sunbathed, and I never saw him swim, but it was the bitch of the 
ocean, you know? It had a romantic implication to him."'' 

When Ashby was working on a film, he'd get up before dawn to beat 
the traffic and then drive up the coast to Los Angeles with the glow of 
the rising sun on the open road. According to Bernard, Ashby's work- 
load and commuting "took the constitution of an eighteen-year old," but 
he never needed more than four hours' sleep. "He would leave before 
anybody was up and came back when we were all in bed," Bernard 
remembers. "We would leave some food out for him. I don't know how 
he did it."20 

The Laguna crowd was described by Tom Blackwell as "artists, surfers, 
vagabonds," all getting by as best they could. Blackwell was a young 
painter who had come from Chicago to try and make his name but was 
still a decade or so away from his breakthrough success as part of the 
photorealist movement. He enjoyed being part of this bohemian group 
and was a regular visitor at Ashby's seafront house. On weekends, every- 
body would gather together on the beach to smoke weed, drink, listen to 
music — Miles Davis, Art Pepper, John Coltrane — and talk about every 
conceivable topic. Blackwell was still wet behind the ears and latched 
onto Ashby, who quickly became his friend and mentor. 

The aspiring artist was living on the breadline and was "so poor," 
Bernard says, "I think Ashby gave him clothes and some shoes. I have 
this weird recollection that he gave him a pair of sandals! "^^ Ashby took 
Blackwell under his wing and brought him along to jazz clubs, brav- 
ing some of the rougher Los Angeles neighborhoods to share musical 
delights with the young man. 

"He was the smartest man I'd ever met," says Blackwell. "Funny, 
as well. Without him being showy, you would know that he was the 
smartest guy in the room. The thing about Hal was the commanding 
way he spoke. He was so verbally acute, he would immediately gain 
your respect. He would get to the essence of things in an offhand and 
unforgettable way. He could summarize a scene in a way that made it so 
compelling, after that you could only see it his way."^^ 

Doors Open . 


In his early days of editing, Ashby was already thinking a lot about 
directing. Blackwell recalls a car journey they took together during which 
they discussed Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which Blackwell had 
just read. Over the course of the ride, the two talked about the possibility 
of turning it into a film, but Ashby decided it wasn't viable, that it was 
"way too far ahead of the Zeitgeist."^"* (According to Blackwell, Ashby 
was always a year or so ahead of everybody else's tastes.) 

Ashby continued to read widely and watch a lot of films — Hitchcock 
and Fellini were among his favorite directors — and whether he was mak- 
ing industry connections or broadening his cultural horizons, everything 
he did was in some way geared toward readying himself to direct. In a 
letter written in the early 1980s, Mickey reminded Ashby of "the days 
we used [to] sit around digging Basie or whom ever and throwing ideas 
around about making films to the music instead of vice versa. "^^ She 
maintains that more than ten years before he started directing, Ashby 
already knew exactly what kinds of films he would make. "He was a 
very idealistic man," she says. "He wanted to make films that had a mes- 
sage but didn't hit people over the head with it. You know, like a subtle 
thing. He believed he was going to become a director; that was what he'd 
wanted from the very beginning."^* Ashby was particularly influenced by 
Wyler because he made films marked by realism, restraint, and humor. 
Ashby respected Wyler because he "didn't want to be untruthful. He had 
very strong feelings that way, and he would make films for reasons. "^^ 

In around 1958, the year that Mandel broke into Hollywood with 
his groundbreaking jazz score to Robert Wise's / Want to Live, the Su- 
san Hayward melodrama, Ashby and Bernard came up with a plan for a 
movie inspired by their activities with the antinuclear group SANE. The 
Sound of Silence, written by "Ian Bernard and Wm. Hal Ashby," is set 
in 1965, twenty years after the dropping of the atomic bomb. It centers 
on David Cassidy, a war correspondent obsessed with Hiroshima who 
begins a personal crusade to prevent further nuclear activity. The script 
showcases pacifist perspectives and reveals the writers' belief that art can 
precipitate change. The last meaningful statement in the script is from 
David's wife, Allyn, who tells him that as a writer he has "the ability to 
reach men's hearts; you can make them feel and understand. You can do 
a lot of good because of this. That's the way I think you should fight ."^^ 

Cassidy is a lot like Ashby: married with a young child and unsure 


Being Hal Ashby 

whether the conventional happiness of family life can give him all he 
needs. Like Ashby and many of his 1970s male protagonists, he is es- 
sentially still a child, an adult whose immaturity and insecurity lurk 
just below the surface. He too gets angry and impassioned about events 
outside his control, that anger and distress coming predominantly from 
an inability to affect things, rather than from the wrong itself. 

Ashby and Bernard were friendly with Reva Frederick, Robert Mit- 
chum's personal assistant, and The Sound of Silence was written with 
Mitchum in mind as they felt he would be ideologically sympathetic with 
the film's views. Mitchum was supposedly interested, but nothing came 
of it, and the film was never produced. 

The Sound of Silence was too personal and polemical to be entirely 
successful: certain characters are stereotypes, some scenarios lack real- 
ism, and the dialogue is at times clunky. Yet considering how inexpe- 
rienced both writers were, the script succeeds much more than might 
be expected, and its powerful pacifist message was a sign of things to 

As soon as The Big Country was completed, Swink moved base to 
Twentieth Century-Fox to begin work on George Stevens's The Diary 
of Anne Frank (1959), taking his keen-eyed protege with him. 

Stevens, like Wyler, was a veteran who had as much power and sway 
as any director in Hollywood and a reputation for shooting a lot of foot- 
age. In the past, Stevens had infuriated his bosses with overblown pro- 
duction times and lengthy editing periods, but the consistent commercial 
and critical success of his films made him an asset to any studio. Three 
of his previous four films — Giant (1956), Shane (1953), and A Place in 
the Sun (1951) — had been huge successes, and Giant and A Place in the 
Sun both won Stevens Best Director Academy Awards. Though Stevens 
didn't have the same impact on Ashby as Wyler, working alongside him 
nevertheless had an effect. Years later, Ashby would recount the director 
telling him: "In film, 25 per cent of it is in the writing, 25 per cent of it 
is in the shooting, 25 per cent of it is in the editing, and the last 25 per 
cent is what you end up with."^' 

If anything. The Diary of Anne Frank was a bigger operation than 
The Big Country. It was another three-hour epic, and in the Fox cut- 
ting rooms where he worked Ashby had cans of footage stacked high 

Doors Open . 


all around him. Sometimes it would take hours just to find one little bit 
of footage, but he had a superb memory for minute details in individual 
takes and was an invaluable help to Swink. The pair worked fourteen- or 
fifteen-hour days, putting editing before everything else. A secretary's 
memo informed the Society of Motion Picture Film Editors that "Messr.s 
[sic] Bob Swink and Hal Ashby missed the meeting this evening because 
it was necessary to work on our picture."'" Out of the nine editors em- 
ployed on The Diary of Anne Frank, it was only Ashby, the most junior, 
who kept working alongside his boss rather than stopping to attend a 
union meeting. 

Ashby not only had a passion for his work but also felt a fierce loy- 
alty to Swink. In the article "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," he 
wrote affectionately about Swink's influence on him: 

When I was lucky enough to be working with Bob, he hit me 
with everything from the technical aspects to a philosophy of 

"Once the film is in hand," he would say, "forget about the 
script, throw away all of the so-called rules, and don't try and 
second-guess the director. Just look at the film, and let it guide 
you. It will turn you on all by itself, and you'll have more ideas 
on ways to cut it than you would ever dream possible. 

"And use your instincts! Don't be afraid of them! Rely on 
them! After all with the exception of a little knowledge, instincts 
are all we've got. 

"Also, don't be afraid of the film. You can cut it together 
twenty-six different ways, and if none of those works, you can 
always put it back into daily form, and start over."^^ 

After The Diary of Anne Frank, Swink took Ashby with him from 
film to film for the rest of his apprenticeship. It meant not only a guar- 
antee of employment but also an opportunity to observe one of the best 
editors around. At the start of 1959, the two were just getting started on 
SpartacMs (1960) when, after just two weeks, producer-star Kirk Doug- 
las fired director Anthony Mann. Swink and Ashby left the film when 
the new director, Stanley Kubrick, brought in his own editor, Ashby's 
friend Bob Lawrence. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Mann's firing demonstrated the precarious position of directors, 
who were ostensibly less important than stars with inflated egos. When 
Ashby became a prominent director, he avoided the spotlight as much as 
possible and instead concentrated on his craft and helping others as he 
himself had been helped. 

Ashby saw at close quarters the negative effects of fame when his 
path crossed with the celebrated poet Robert Frost. Frost was the guest 
of honor at the wedding of Lelia Goldoni, star of John Cassavetes's Shad- 
ows (1959) and a friend of Mickey's. Ashby was photographed standing 
proudly next to the great man, but the story behind the picture is more 
revealing. Ashby and Mickey were fond of Frost's delicate, sensitive 
poetry but found that, in person, the man was irritable and unbearably 
arrogant. "He was an egomaniac!" Mickey recalls. 

Ashby had also seen a change in his friend Sammy Davis Jr. since he 
had risen to stardom. In the late 1950s, Ashby and Mickey would go for 
meals at Davis's house up in the hills. When Davis discovered Mickey 
was a painter, he commissioned her to paint his picture. Davis posed for 
Mickey, but she was interested in African art, and the tribal influences 
in her rendering of the Rat Packer were not to his liking. He had "an 
enormous ego," Mickey said. "He wanted a Hollywood portrait, but I 
didn't have it in me to do that."^' As Davis's fame grew, he and Ashby 
grew apart. "One day Ashby and I were leaving the United Artists lot 
and Sammy stopped the car for a second," says Ian Bernard. "Having 
been one of our great bosom buddies, he casually said, 'We've got to get 
together sometime,' and Ashby and I both said, 'Yeah, sure.' He'd sort 
of gone off to be a great star in his own mind."^"* 

Ashby felt that in order to develop, he had to broaden his horizons, both 
culturally and geographically. He wanted to be ready to direct important 
films with something to say. He needed to move to Europe. 

Mickey, however, was far from enthusiastic. "I was painting," she 
says, "and we had this great house there up on a cliff above the ocean. 
As far as I was concerned we had it made, but he wanted to do this 
European thing."^^ She would miss her friends and being surrounded by 
her animals, but, carried along by Ashby 's excitement, she agreed to the 
move. They sold everything they owned, gave up the seafront house, and 
bid farewell to Laguna Beach. 

Doors Open . 


They went first to New York City, where they stayed with Ashby's 
old girlfriend Gloria and her husband. It was November 1960, and the 
city was covered in snow. Mickey and Gloria went out for a walk and 
stumbled across an apartment that they thought would be perfect for 
Mickey and Ashby. Mickey was much keener on the idea of moving to 
New York than that of changing continents, but her efforts to convince 
Ashby to stay were fruitless. "He wanted to go to Europe, maybe just to 
say he had been to Europe," she says. "I couldn't have cared less."^*" 

Because he knew some film people there, Ashby chose to relocate 
to London. Mickey was now a sound-effects editor and had worked in 
television, and Ashby hoped they would both get film work through his 
contacts. However, they were shocked to discover on their arrival that 
they needed permits to work in Britain. 

In an effort to salvage the situation, they bought a Volkswagen (very 
alien with its right-hand drive) and headed for the Continent, hoping a 
change of location would bring better fortune. They had little money, 
but in Paris they met someone who agreed to loan them his apartment 
for a few weeks. At the American Express office where they picked up 
their mail, a charismatic young man invited them to an Algerian tea- 
room. Because of the current tensions between Algeria and France (the 
Algerians were trying to gain independence from French colonial rule), it 
was risky to go to such places, and Ashby feared he might be arrested in 
a raid by the French police. "Ashby was very cautious," Mickey remem- 
bers. "It was the beginning of his career, and he sure didn't want to get 
into anything like that." Luckily, they spent an uninterrupted afternoon 
drinking tea and enjoying the establishment's "relaxed" atmosphere. 
"They had a lot of hash," says Mickey. "They cut open a regular ciga- 
rette and laid a chunk of hash in it, wrapped it back up and smoked it 
that way. Drugs kinda ran in and out of everything. "^^ 

Ashby and Mickey next headed for Switzerland, where they met up 
with Ian and Judith Bernard in Zurich for Christmas. The two couples 
then drove through the Alps aiming for Rome, but a blizzard halted 
their progress, and they had to spend New Year's Eve in a little hotel in 
Piacenza. At dinner, they were befriended by a group of Italians who 
loved Americans because they had freed them from Mussolini and fas- 
cism. The two parties saw in the start of 1961 together, toasted it with 
optimism, and then retired for the night. The following morning, when 


Being Hal Ashby 

Ashby checked out, he was told that the bill had been settled by the 
Italians from the night before. While the others were touched by this 
generosity, Ashby's pride was hurt. After a heated discussion, he stub- 
bornly insisted they pay the bill again, much to Bernard's disgust. 

As Mickey had feared, they struggled to adapt to life in Europe. 
They had fit in perfectly in Laguna Beach, but here they were seen as 
oddballs and hippies. Even simple things like crossing the street became 
confusing, as the Europeans drove on the "wrong" side of the road. 
Driving their little Volkswagen was disorienting and particularly diffi- 
cult in Rome: on one occasion Ashby was so intimidated by the Italians' 
reckless driving that he froze on a roundabout by the Coliseum. Bernard 
had to pry him from the driver's seat and take over at the wheel. 

After a few days in Rome, Ian and Judith left to go back to Laguna; 
Mickey enviously watched them go. As Ashby and Mickey were leav- 
ing Rome, they drove within a couple of blocks of the prison where 
Chet Baker was being held after a drug arrest the previous summer. The 
jazz icon was a friend of Mickey's, and she was desperate to see him, 
but Ashby refused, fearful of how the unpredictable Italian authorities 
might react to two strangers visiting an infamous drug addict. "When 
we didn't go by and stop and see Chet in prison, I really wasn't happy 
about that," she says. "It wasn't that risky. But Ashby was very cautious; 
he was at the beginning of his career and didn't want to do anything that 
would knock it off track. "^* 

Mickey and Ashby left Italy and briefly returned to France before 
heading for Madrid. Because The Pride and the Passion had been shot in 
Spain, Ashby thought they might find work there. On the way, they got 
lost and ended up on a back road where they saw how Franco's fascist 
regime had reduced Spain to crippling poverty. In Madrid, too, they saw 
department stores covered in dust because nobody could afford to buy 
what was being sold. In stark contrast to the feting they had received 
in Italy, here they were hated because of the United States' support of 
Franco's government. The Spaniards did not even try to hide it. Ashby 
and Mickey were refused work everywhere and came away ashamed 
to be American. Recalling the trip, Ashby said, "The first time I ever 
traveled, I was disillusioned with [my] country and with what I thought 
we stood for."^' 

Things went from bad to worse when Mickey became very ill after 
eating shellfish. She returned to London, while Ashby spent two weeks 

Doors Open . 


in France and Spain, adding to the already considerable strain on their 
relationship. When he rejoined Mickey, they stayed with friends in 
London's comfortable Earl's Court district, but Mickey remained unwell 
for the duration of their trip abroad. Finally, to her great relief, Ashby 
agreed that it was time to head home. 

While staying with one of his film friends in New York, Ashby found 
temporary editing work that allowed them to remain there for a few 
months. Mickey was instantly more at ease: every morning she would 
go to Grand Central Station and sit in the shadows, filling a sketchbook 
with drawings of travelers milling around the majestic station. 

Back in Laguna, Mickey turned her sketches into paintings, and 
Ashby enthusiastically returned to editing. He and Swink were back at 
Goldwyn, cutting Phil Karlson's The Young Doctors back-to-back with 
Wyler's The Children's Hour (both 1961). Wyler spent quite a bit of time 
in the cutting room yet never cramped Swink or the other editors. This 
became Ashby's preferred method of working, both as an editor and as 
a director. 

To Ashby, Wyler personified good directing. Though stylistically 
there are few parallels between the two, Wyler had a huge influence on 
how Ashby conducted himself. "I carry him around all the time when 
I direct," he said later, "even though I never had discussions with him 
about that. It all had to do with the absorption of his work and being 
close enough at times to really see how it happened. And it was the atti- 
tude about being able to listen to what other people had to say.'"*" Ashby 
was always observing Wyler, right down to the tiniest details. One night, 
after a preview in Long Beach, Wyler and his editors returned to the 
Goldwyn lot to talk about the screening. During the whole discussion, 
Wyler was silent and just sat at his desk writing mysteriously on a pad 
of paper. As everyone was leaving to go home, Ashby sneaked a peek at 
what profound observations Wyler had jotted down. On the pad was 
just the word "Decisions," which Wyler had written over and over in 
the same spot. The incident stayed with Ashby, proof that even the most 
experienced minds sometimes had to go back to basics. In the 1980s, the 
notepads in Ashby's office were all headed with one handwritten word: 

Ashby worked ceaselessly from his return to Laguna in spring 1961 until 
the end of the year, when The Children's Hour was released. That sum- 


Being Hal Ashby 

mer, Mickey began an affair with John Barreto, a man on the fringes of 
their social group. Ashby knew Barreto socially and got on well with him, 
but he had never identified him as a threat to his domestic happiness. 

With Ashby so seldom at home, however, Mickey felt irresistibly 
drawn to Barreto, whom she found "magnetic, wonderful.'"*^ Their time 
in Europe had given her grave reservations about her marriage to Ashby. 
For the sake of his career, he had prized them away from the stability of 
all they knew: "My whole life was left in Laguna. I'd given up a whole 
lot to go on that trip. He insisted on that. It was the straw that broke 
my back.'"*^ 

The day after Christmas, Mickey left Ashby. She was so sure she 
was doing the right thing that, had Barreto not convinced her to do oth- 
erwise, she would have left without an explanation. Despite her lover's 
intervention, she still walked out on Ashby "in a very rude way. I just left 
him a note on the refrigerator, like you'd leave for the milkman.'"*^ 

In the eyes of their friends, Ashby and Mickey's relationship had 
become platonic. Ashby, however, had been so focused on his work that 
her departure was a huge shock to him. Whether he was fully conscious 
of it or not, he had shut her out sexually in the latter stages of their mar- 
riage, as work consumed his every waking moment. Mickey had done 
everything she could to get him interested again, using all her wiles and 
dressing up in exotic lingerie, but to no avail. (In the opinion of one of 
his friends, after he had "rescued" Mickey — who didn't really want or 
need to be rescued — Ashby found her appeal slowly lessening.) 

Three days after Mickey left, a divorce complaint was drawn up 
against Ashby, claiming she had been subjected to "extreme cruelty" and 
that he had "wrongfully inflicted upon her grievous mental suffering.'"''* 
His response was to claim that Mickey was insane and try to have her 
put under seventy-two-hour observation. According to Mickey, Ashby 
did not actually think she was mentally unstable, just "crazy for leaving 
him. He was on the up, and we were driving a Porsche." Barreto, on the 
other hand, wandered from one casual job to the next, was a heroin user, 
and, Mickey admits, was "practically living in his car.'"*' 

Ashby, however, accepted her decision and did not fight it. By 
the end of January, he and Mickey had been granted an interlocutory 
judgment of divorce. (The final judgment was not granted until May 
1963.) Ashby did not contest the claims leveled at him in the complaint. 

Doors Open . 


although Mickey concedes they were false and made only to ensure a 
quick divorce. Mickey nevertheless felt guilty — and more so when Ashby 
generously gave her their right-hand-drive Volkswagen. "As far as I was 
concerned I didn't deserve anything; I had left him," Mickey says. "But 
he gave me that car. He was very good to me. He was a good man, a 
good man.'"** 

She left the marriage not without the occasional backward glance. 
In a letter to Ashby from the early 1980s, she wrote: "Maybe I just 
wanted to say hello — I think I've wanted to for a long time now. Thank 
you for what you taught me and tried to teach me — Some dense pupil! '"^^ 
Looking back, she says, "He was a good husband, he really was. You 
couldn't ask for more. I never got over feeling guilty just leaving him like 
I did. But that was where my heart was taking me.'"** 


The Family Man 

A baby is God's opinion that hfe should go on. 
— Carl Sandburg, Remembrance Rock (1948) 

Here in your hand, before your very eyes, is proof that your 
youngest son; the baby of your family is in fact becoming a 
more responsible individual. 
—Hal Ashby 

The Sound of Silence was written ten years after Ashby had bailed on 
Lavon and Leigh, and possibly marked a change in his attitude toward 
children. The idealistic hero, David Cassidy, has a seven-year-old son; 
given that the screenplay is set in 1965, he would have been born in 
1958, right around the time that Ashby and Ian Bernard were writing 
the script. Was Ashby thinking about becoming a father again and imag- 
ining the world his child might grow up in.' 

Though Mickey had a daughter with John Barreto a few years after 
she left Ashby, she had told Ashby she did not want any children. How- 
ever, she recalls that in his first few years as an apprentice editor, Ashby 
worked with a woman who was going through a difficult divorce and 
actually signed papers agreeing to be a guardian of her child. In May 
1960, he did not stand in the way of Jim Montgomery, Lavon's second 
husband, who had raised Leigh, adopting his daughter and legally be- 
coming her father. If the newly single Ashby felt an urge for parenthood 
now, he apparently wanted a fresh start at it. 

In an odd coincidence, Shirley Citron was, like Mickey, an orphan, 
and she had always yearned for the traditional family setup she had 
missed out on as a child. Almost three years older than Ashby, she was a 
stunning blonde with long hair and gorgeous features. As Ashby 's niece 
Meredith commented when she met her, she "even smoked sexy."^ 


The Family Man 


According to Ashby, he and Shirley met only at the beginning of 
1962, but they had both been apprentice editors at the same time, so 
their paths may have crossed earlier. (Shirley's only editing credit is for 
the film Invasion of the Animal People [1962] — a version of the Swedish 
creature feature Rymdinvasion I Lappland [1959] reworked with the ad- 
dition of a few disjointed new scenes featuring John Carradine — which 
she had cut for Jerry Warren, a hack filmmaker who regularly bought 
and repackaged foreign films.) 

Soon after they got together, Ashby wrote his mother that Shirley 
was pregnant. However, he was quick to explain, "The baby is not mine. 
Shirley was pregnant before I ever met her. Shirley was not married or 
even involved with anyone when she became pregnant. It was just one 
of those things that happen, and when it happens all you can do is make 
a decision. Shirley made the decision to have her baby. It was sometime 
later when I came along and we fell in love. I should say we discovered 
we loved each other."^ 

Predictably, Ashby threw himself into the romance with total aban- 
don. He and Shirley had an instant connection, and there was an irresist- 
ible logic to their relationship: she had a child on the way and no father 
in sight, and Ashby finally felt ready to have a family. It was also an 
opportunity to rescue the woman he loved and partly atone for leaving 
Lavon and Leigh. Only the fact that Ashby was technically Mickey's 
husband stopped him from marrying Shirley immediately, but in all 
other ways they were man and wife. 

They moved into 9878 Easton Drive, a house on a secluded lane in 
Benedict Canyon, away from the noise and urban sprawl of Los Angeles. 
Secluded and peaceful, it was an ideal place to start a family. 

Ashby wrote to his mother that he was "very much in love . . . unable 
to find the words that could express why I feel about her as I do." Yet he 
acknowledged that their situations — his divorce and her pregnancy by 
another man — were a struggle, despite the strength of their feelings for 
each other: "Parts of it have been very rough; we had both our pasts. . . . 
But our love has been strong enough to carry us through the hardship of 
jealousy, fear and anything else you can think of."^ 

The birth of Shirley's daughter brought them together and made 
them feel positive about the path they were on. Carrie was born in Ce- 
dars of Lebanon Hospital on June 23, 1962, and christened with the 


Being Hal Ashby 

surname Ashby. Though they weren't married yet, Shirley had already 
changed her name to Ashby, and so it was a proper family that returned 
to Easton Drive. A few months later, Ashby reported: "The joy of loving 
is fast pushing the bad things into oblivion.'"' 

Though Carrie was not his own blood, Ashby called her his daughter 
and treated her as such. He was a dedicated father and stayed at home 
for the first couple of months of her life. However, he soon ran out of 
money and had to return to work. Once Ashby was back in the editing 
room with Bob Swink, cutting Byron Haskin's Captain Sindbad (1963), 
his inability to balance work and family life became apparent. After 
years of letting his work utterly consume him, he was unable to break 
the pattern. For the rest of his life, he would be a workaholic. He took 
photos of Carrie in August, just after starting work on Captain Sindbad, 
but three months down the line had still not developed them. Shirley, 
however, was understanding and in a letter to Eileen Ashby wrote: "Men 
need to take their time when they're doing creative things and we must 
be patient with them."^ 

Life on Easton Drive with Shirley, Carrie, and their two cats. Grey and 
Sheba, seemed to effect a change in Ashby. He had sporadically stayed in 
touch with his mother since leaving Ogden but was aware that from his 
teenage years on he had been far from an ideal son. Now that he had a 
family himself, he began to feel the urge to put things right. He started 
writing his mother every month, expressing his appreciation of her, and 
attempting to apologize for past wrongs. "I may treat you shabbily most 
of the time," he confessed, "but don't ever think for a second that I am 
not aware of what you are. You have given the greatest gift there is to give. 
You have been able to give love. Nothing is more important than that."^ 

Ashby told Eileen that her love was possibly the one constant in 
his life, the thing he could rely on no matter what. "I have begun to 
recognize your love as a kind of anchor; a solid base to living ... to life," 
he wrote. "No matter what tragedies might beset me; no matter how 
despondent I may become; I know there is someone who wants me to 
be; you want me to be because I am me."^ Previously, he had felt guilty 
about the inadequacy of what he had given her in return. Now, however, 
as he looked at Carrie, he realized that it was the role of parents to give 
more than they would ever receive back. 

The Family Man 


Pondering his troubled teenage years, Ashby acknowledged that he 
had refused his mother's help and emotionally excluded her, then never 
properly let her back into his life: 

Perhaps there is a point when the child reaches an age where so 

many new things are happening all at once; he becomes con- 
fused and frightened; it panics him. He withdraws; he starts 
to close things off. He wants to stop the flow of newness. In 
his confusion, he shuts off love, also. From this point he needs 
a constant pressure on the valve from somebody who has the 
stamina to keep loving him; despite his refusal to accept it. One 
day he'll get a glimmer of this love and let the valve be opened 
freely. Love will pour in and, in a sense, he will be born again. 
He will start to learn what life really is. He will accept respon- 
sibility because it is a part of loving; not because it's something 
forced upon him. Love will be the one basic* 

For Ashby, the valve had been opened by the overwhelming emotions he 
experienced in the role of father and husband, and his new family helped 
him see his family back home in Ogden in a different light. He realized 
that he and Jack had not seen each other in years and expressed an 
interest in getting to know him once again. And when Eileen sent him a 
picture of Leigh, along with news of her progress, he needlessly returned 
the picture but said that he "would be more than pleased and happy" to 
meet her: "I imagine it would be a little awkward at first, but I'm certain 
those kind of things can be overcome and I am anxious to see what kind 
of person she is turning out to be. One of these days, when everything is 
right, maybe she can come and visit in California. That is if she doesn't 
have some boyfriend she would be homesick for all the time she's here. 
We both know how that can be don't we!"' 

It was a valiant gesture but fell far short of reconciliation. Ashby 
may have been ready to be a father again, but he wasn't ready to face his 
guilt for abandoning Leigh. It's unclear whether, in saying that he would 
see her "when everything is right," he was aware that that day would 
never come. 

Nevertheless, in his newly enlightened state, he was trying to be 
a better person and reexamining his way of seeing things. "I was so 


Being Hal Ashby 

smart," he wrote to Eileen, "it only took me about twenty-eight years to 
learn the fact that people are people, and should be treated as such. . . . 
Now, I at least try and think before I act. I try to understand how a per- 
son could feel hurt; even if I don't believe they should feel that way."'" 

Now that Ashby and Eileen were writing regularly and had a much 
greater understanding of each other, he invited her to visit him in Los 
Angeles and meet Shirley and Carrie. Eileen, however, was seventy-five, 
suffered from heart trouble and arthritis, and had money problems, so 
Ashby drove halfway to Ogden (he feared his car wouldn't make it the 
whole way) to meet her and took her to Los Angeles himself. 

The visit was a roaring success. Not only was Eileen delighted with 
her new granddaughter, but she got on very well with Shirley, with whom 
she formed a strong bond over the next few years. In contrast to previous 
visits, during which Ashby barely saw her, this time they spent a lot of 
time together. After she left, he wrote to her, saying: "Gee, but did we 
enjoy you being here with us. I'll never be able to explain the good feeling 
I get when I see, hear, or think of you. Why don't you come again next 

In May, Ashby's divorce from Mickey came through, and on July 31, 
he and Shirley legally tied the knot in a Las Vegas quickie wedding. Again, 
after a few more months at home, Ashby had to return to work. Because 
of a paucity of editing jobs, the union was being particularly vigilant 
about giving priority to their most senior members. As a result, Ashby 
had to fight to get to work on The Best Man (1964), a Henry Fonda movie 
adapted from the Gore Vidal play. Bob Swink, however, insisted on hav- 
ing him. Now in the final stages of his epic apprenticeship as an editor, 
Ashby immersed himself in his work throughout the latter part of 1963 
and helped get a rough cut finished by the end of the year. Vidal, unaware 
that this was just a preliminary version, was upset with the results and 
tried to have his name taken off the film. However, when later he saw the 
magic Swink and Ashby had worked on the final cut, he was delighted. 

Despite the hard work he did there, the editing room was for Ashby a 
haven, a retreat from reality that allowed him to contemplate the world 
and his place in it. Though he corresponded less often when he was on a 
film, it was with Eileen more than anyone that he shared these rumina- 
tions, even rising at 5 a.m. to write to her before work. 

The Family Man 


A generation and some forty-two years apart, Hal and Eileen Ashby 
nonetheless looked at the world in much the same way. He had inherited 
from her what he called "a continual questioning of life,"*^ and dur- 
ing this period it was almost as if he was in a second adolescence as 
he reassessed everything around him. His former belief that he knew 
all the answers was replaced with a realization: "That any conclusion 
I might reach should be considered an ultimate is absurd. This feeling, 
this knowing that I don't know all the answers, is a good feeling. It's 
good because it allows me to approach life with an open-mind." He 
concluded: "The overall reason for life; this earth and all that goes with 
it ... is a puzzle, but an extremely beautiful puzzle."^'* 

Ashby's letters to Eileen from this period also reveal a concern for 
the direction in which America was going that would be expressed na- 
tionally over the course of the decade by the peace and civil rights move- 
ments. Ashby has always been personified as "the hippie director," not 
only because of his appearance, but also because there was a freedom 
and a joy in his films coupled with a concern for the world and a will to 
change things for the better: "I truly enjoy the life I live. Even with its 
fear, frustration, and seeming madness at times there is still the joy of 
just being. The joy of knowing you, of seeing — seeing, not just looking 
at — all the beautiful things there are in this crazy world we live in. The 
joy of being able to have compassion for my fellow man. To have the 
capacity to cry because of something that has happened to some other 
person is truly a blessing. Life is absurd, but its very absurdity, makes it 

There was also a spiritual aspect to Ashby's soul-searching; though 
never a Mormon, he was nevertheless religious in a loose, modern sense. 
When Eileen asked him when he had given up God, he responded by 
saying: "I don't think anyone can just give Him up. They can renounce a 
conception, or idea of God, but, to my way [of] belief, to renounce God 
would be the same as renouncing all of life. . . . Life is much too wonder- 
ful. To dispute it, could only be a waste of time. The only thing I get 
angry about is when I think: Here I've been presented with this beautiful 
gift called Life, and someday it's to be taken from me. I'm selfish, and 
I want to keep it. However, I do accept that it was given, and 'give and 
take' is a rule that applies to all of Life."'* 

Perhaps because his father died when he was at such a vulnerable 


Being Hal Ashby 

age, Ashby was painfully aware of the fact that life was short and that 
every opportunity should be taken, every moment savored. When dis- 
cussing patience, in which Eileen was a great believer, he admitted: "If 
it costs me too much on the emotional ledger of my life, I refuse to . . . sit 
with people who have nothing in common with me just because it seems 
the patient thing to do. I have more important things to do with the 
short span of my life. Let them do what they want, but I would rather sit 
for an hour and communicate with a solitary leaf from a tree. To me, the 
leaf has more to say than some people."^^ 

The beginning of 1964 was a busy time for Ashby: not only were he and 
Swink putting together the final cut of The Best Man, but the Ashby 
family was also moving. Fortunately, the distance was minimal, as they 
were taking the house at 9853 Easton Drive, just a few yards up the lane. 
It was smaller, but, in a letter to his mother, Ashby described it as "the 
nicest place I've lived in since I left home."^^ 

Ashby finished his stint on The Best Man on the night of February 
18 and began work on The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) the very 
next morning. "I've read most of the script," he wrote to his mother, 
"and am truly enthused about it. What I have read is beautiful and mov- 
ing, with a true feeling for the story of Christ. If the film is one-half as 
good as the script, it will end up as one of the finest films ever made."" 
George Stevens had shot hundreds of thousands of feet of film, making 
the editorial undertaking as epic as the film itself. When Ashby came 
on board, a crew of seven or eight editors had already been editing for 
a year, and he and Bob Swink, who had been assigned to cut the scenes 
from the Last Supper onward, were expected to be busy for a further six 
to eight months. 

However, just two weeks after he and Ashby began, Swink was 
poached by William Wyler to work on his new film. The Collector 
(1965), adapted from the John Fowles novel. It was decided that Ashby 
should take over from his mentor, and he suddenly became a chief edi- 
tor, one of four editors working under Harold Kress, the supervising edi- 
tor, tirelessly assembling a film that would run four hours and twenty 
minutes when released. Just halfway through cutting the Last Supper, 
however, Ashby received an even more enticing offer from John Galley 

The Family Man 


of the Filmways production company: Tony Richardson was interested 
in having him edit his new picture, The Loved One, an adaptation of 
Evelyn Waugh's novella. 

On July 23, Ashby wrote a note to Stevens, telling him that he want- 
ed to leave to become chief editor on The Loved One but that he would 
not do so without Stevens's permission. Stevens refused his permission, 
however, so Ashby said no to Galley. However, just two days later. Gal- 
ley met with Ashby and asked him to begin the very next day, at a much 
greater salary than Stevens was paying him. 

Ashby turned up at Stevens's offices with his note of resignation and 
decided to tell Kress rather than Stevens that he was quitting the film. 
Talking privately in Kress's office, he told him: "I have to leave you." 

"Hal," warned Kress, "you're going to make the biggest enemy you 
ever had in the motion picture business." 

Ashby, fearful of Stevens's reaction, asked, "Will you tell him? He 
might get mad and haul off." 

When Kress passed on the news, Stevens responded by saying, "We 
just raised him from an assistant to an editor four months ago and now 
he's going to walk out on us?"^° 

Ashby had contravened union rules, and Stevens filed a grievance. 
More important, however, Ashby had broken his word, lured away by 
ambition and money. Five years later, Ashby wrote, "The George Stevens 
people were mad at me — I hope they still aren't."^' 

Though in terms of his career it made sense to quit as one of four 
editors working under a supervising editor to become chief editor for 
Richardson, Ashby felt guilty for many years. A seminar Ashby gave at 
the American Film Institute in 1975 was held just hours after Stevens's 
funeral, but because he had been immersed in his upcoming film. Bound 
for Glory, Ashby had missed the news of Stevens's death. Clearly shaken, 
he said that it might take him "ten or fifteen minutes to get into this 
thing. . . . It's a bit of a shock so if you could all just bear with me for a 
little bit. It's such a shock; it's the missing you know." He went on to say, 
"[Stevens] certainly gave a lot to all of us, that's for sure." Yet it was his 
guilt over Greatest Story ("an awful thing happened out of it") that he 
lingered over, his voice trailing off as he spoke. 



Hal Ashby was, without doubt, the most committed editor 
I ever worked with. Over the course of my next three films, 
which I did with Hal, we would bond as close as brothers. 
— Norman Jewison 

Had Ashby known what lay ahead, he might have thought better of 
his decision to work on The Loved One; in a letter to Ashby, the film's 
creative assistant, Budd Cherry, referred to its production period as "the 
Great Trauma of '64." ' 

In 1964, Tony Richardson was the hottest young director in town. 
Just a few months before The Loved One started shooting, his film Tom 
Jones (1963) had won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and 
Best Director for Richardson, from its ten nominations. However, when 
MGM, with whom he had a multipicture deal, refused to reward his 
Oscar success with an improved contract, Richardson was determined 
to make them regret their decision. The Loved One began shooting in 
late July 1964 and was supposed to be done after ten weeks, but it was 
December before Richardson wrapped, by which time he had doubled 
the budget. Richardson banned producer Martin Ransohoff (whose 
company, Filmways, was making the picture for MGM) from the set, 
blew money on unnecessary location shooting, cast stars in cameos and 
unknowns in the lead roles, and spent huge amounts of Metro's money 
on Dom Perignon and canapes and screening dailies at the exclusive 
Beverly Hills Hotel. Not only did he shoot an enormous amount of film 
(the first assembly ran to five hours), but his treatment of Evelyn Waugh's 
already scathingly satirical take on life and death in Beverly Hills aimed 
to shock. (There were allegedly three versions of the film: "rare, medium 
and we'U-sue.")^ 

Ashby was collateral damage in the general havoc that Richardson 




wreaked. After Ashby and his team had finished the first cut, Richard- 
son took the film back to England to complete it with his usual editor. 
In his autobiography, Richardson wrote: "I hadn't been happy with the 
editors I worked with on The Loved One (one of them, Hal Ashby, went 
on to make a good career as a director) and I wanted to transfer the film 
back to London where I could work with Tony Gibbs."' He was most 
likely oblivious to the effects of his actions. Ashby already had a black 
mark against his name for the way he had left Stevens, and now the job 
he had risked his reputation for had been prized away from him. "It was 
a bad time," Ashby wrote later. "Depression and paranoia ran rampant. 
In short, I was on the super bummer of the year.'"* 

In Ashby 's eyes, it was Norman Jewison who saved his career. 

At the time, Jewison was in a transitional period as a director, just as 
Ashby was as an editor. A Canadian expat who began his career in live 

television and graduated to making inoffensive comedies for Universal 
(including two Doris Day vehicles), he had just been brought in to take 
over The Cincinnati Kid (a movie based on Richard Jessup's poker novel), 
another Filmways production for MGM. The film's original director, 
Sam Peckinpah, had shot a riot with hundreds of extras that was not in 
the script and a controversial nude scene involving a black prostitute, 
prompting Martin Ransohoff to relieve Peckinpah of his duties after 
only a week. His experiences with Richardson had left Ransohoff in no 
mood to work with another loose cannon. 

Though Jewison was an unlikely candidate for a film that was es- 
sentially a reworking of The Hustler (1961), with cards instead of pool, 
John Galley and Ransohoff desperately needed a director immediately, 
and he was perceived as a safe choice. Jewison accepted the job on the 
condition that he be given two weeks to rework the script with Terry 
Southern, the screenwriter on The Loved One and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. 
Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 

It was around this time that Ashby and Jewison first met. Ashby 
said that Galley set up a meeting between them, but Jewison recalls that 
he was wandering around MGM with Southern, whom Ashby had be- 
friended on The Loved One, when they passed his cutting room. At the 
time, Ashby was still working on the first cut of The Loved One, and 


Being Hal Ashby 

Jewison heard him laughing at the outrageous footage. Ashby invited 
him in, and the two began to talk. "There was something about his 
sense of humor and his kindness," Jewison remembers.^ 

Ashby caught Jewison's attention early on when he proudly men- 
tioned his apprenticeship under Bob Swink, working for Wyler and 
Stevens. Wyler was one of Jewison's heroes, and he and Ashby ended 
up talking about him for hours. Jewison began hanging out with Ashby 
as he cut The Loved One, "watching the changes, smoking a little of 
Hal's pot and joining him in helpless laughter. The sicker the movie got, 
the harder we laughed. And despite the laughter and the pot, it became 
obvious to me that he was meticulous and fiercely passionate about his 
craft." By this stage in his career, Ashby's aptitude for editing, his ability 
to absorb and retain information about the footage he was working on, 
was remarkable. "His old Moviola was surrounded by hundreds of feet 
of film in bins or hanging in clips from lines strung between walls," 
recalls Jewison, "but he knew precisely what shots were on each clip."* 

During Ashby's dark hours after he was fired from The Loved One, 
Jewison asked him if he wanted to edit The Cincinnati Kid. "Oh, man, 
that would be great!" Ashby cried, and that was that.'' For the rest of 
the 1960s, Jewison's presence in Ashby's life guaranteed him not only 
regular, secure work but also devoted friendship. Over the course of six 
films, the two would form a rare personal and professional relationship 
that was closer and more creatively productive than any either would 
experience again. 

From the very start they were, as Jewison put it, "simpatico," united 
by a genuine love of cinema and a belief that films should make a differ- 
ence in the world.** They shared the same political views, and both saw 
themselves as rebels within the system. Each represented something that 
the other wanted to be: Jewison was doing what Ashby had dreamed 
about for ten years, directing films; and Ashby had an unaffected cool 
that the rather straitlaced Jewison aspired to. 

"Hal was always cool, man," says Jewison. "Hal was always the 
coolest."' Ashby's appearance particularly set him apart from others on 
the Goldwyn lot: the beatnik goatee that he had sported in the 1950s had 
now been replaced by a full beard, his beatnik garb and sharp shades 
traded in for beads, sandals, and loose-fitting Indian cotton clothes. 
Though his image would later be described by journalists as "hobo 



chic," Ashby was clean and tidy to a fault. Ian Bernard remembers: "His 
penchant for neatness compelled him to arrange the contents of [his] 
briefcase every day until everything was just so. Each item assigned to a 
spot. Combs, pens, notepad, etc."^" "He wasn't unkempt at all," Jewison 
echoes. "He was clinically clean. Everything had to be in the right place 
and the editing room spotless. He hated dust."'^ 

Jewison became a mentor to Ashby, and working alongside him gave 
Ashby a master class in how to operate as a director, starting with the 
way he stamped his authority on The Cincinnati Kid. Jewison insisted on 
having creative control — as he distrusted Ransohoff and all other pro- 
ducers — and then started making the film his way: he brought in script 
doctor Charles Eastman to work with Southern, scrapped Peckinpah's 
black-and-white footage, and announced that he would shoot in color 
on location in New Orleans. He also insisted that Ashby cut the film, 
saying he was "someone who would look at a scene and see the same 
possibilities in it that I saw." 

Jewison upset Ransohoff by shooting scenes that were not in the 
script, prompting the producer to send a telegram reading: "Shoot 
the script. Stop improvizing. You're behind schedule. Return to L.A. 
at once!" "If I have to come back to L.A. now, I'll leave the picture!" 
Jewison replied.^' Ransohoff, who had lost $750,0 00 on the shutdown 
after Peckinpah's departure, backed down. (When they returned to Los 
Angeles, Jewison would hide when Ransohoff came on set, much to the 
amusement of the Cincinnati Kid himself, Steve McQueen.) 

Ashby was instrumental in helping Jewison with a different prob- 
lem, this time involving his star. McQueen was infamously selfish and 
insecure as an actor and was worried about acting opposite the legend- 
ary Edward G. Robinson, who was playing "the Man," whose throne 
McQueen's Kid is trying to win from him. Early on, McQueen asked to 
look at the dailies so he could see if he was "ahead" of Robinson. Jewison 
knew watching himself might throw off his performance, so he asked 
McQueen to trust his experience. However, a few weeks later Ashby cut 
together a short reel capturing McQueen's character that convinced the 
actor that his director was looking out for his best interests. 

Given his track record since completing his apprenticeship, it was 
crucial that Ashby demonstrate his editorial prowess, and The Cincin- 
nati Kid offered him ample opportunities to do so. The key sequence 


Being Hal Ashby 

was the climactic card game in which the Kid plays the Man, and it was 
Ashby's job to make it as exciting as possible — "a gunfight with a deck of 
cards," as Ransohoff put it.^"* "The deeper we got into the game," Jewison 
says, "the more I began to feel confident that I could make it dramatic. 
The photography and editing were key. I counted on the creative talents 
of [director of photography] Phil Lathrop and Hal Ashby to help me pull 
it off."i^ 

The film's finale is beautifully cut, slowly ramping up the tension, 
and Ashby pulled it off despite the problems of how to convey the pass- 
ing of time in the all-night game and eye-line complications caused by 
the round poker table. Both the final game and the cockfight — another 
memorable scene, one that establishes the relationship between the Kid 
and predatory temptress Melba (Ann-Margret) — are cut at a brisk pace, 
and Ashby's decision to end the latter scene on a shot of an exhilarated, 
blood-hungry Ann-Margret in the audience, rather than the birds tear- 
ing each other apart, was an inspired and effective one. 

Ashby had no preconceived ideas about how a film should be cut. 
"The film will tell you how to edit it," he said. "The film will tell you 
what to do in the end.'"* And just as Jewison kept Ransohoff at arm's 
length, Ashby let Jewison know he needed space in order to edit ef- 

"I was always very rebellious and I fought real hard," he confessed 
later. At one point, Jewison asked Ashby whether he should come to the 
editing room so that he could possibly help him "pick some takes and 
things." "Well, Christ, if you don't trust me," Ashby retorted, "why don't 
you get somebody else? You go fucking cut the picture!" They would 
look at the film together, he explained, when he'd finished editing it.^^ 

Even after this outburst, Ashby still had to fight for his autonomy. 
During his years in television, Jewison had picked up the habit of snap- 
ping his fingers where he felt there should be a cut and would irritate 
Ashby by doing this while they were watching dailies. After three days 
of putting up with this, Ashby snapped his fingers just as Jewison was 
about to. They laughed about it, but Jewison knew never to do it again. 

The importance of The Cincinnati Kid in both Ashby's and Jewison's 
careers cannot be overestimated. Jewison said the film "really kind of 
saved me emotionally" and called it "the one that made me feel like I had 
finally become a filmmaker." As for Ashby, after his anguish over The 



Loved One, working with Jewison on The Cincinnati Kid revitalized 
him: "I also got my head together at the same time. I was feelin' good, 
and from there on, things really happened."'' 

The Cincinnati Kid opened on October 15, 1965, to generally very posi- 
tive reviews, particularly in the trades. Variety said: "Jewison early es- 
tablishes the rightful mood for the story and he draws top performances 
from his entire cast. . . . His tempo is aided by the sharp editing of Hal 
Ashby, whose shears enable quick change of scene. "^^ The Hollywood 
Reporter waxed lyrical about the film, dubbing it "thoroughly satisfy- 
ing ... in every way" and one of the best of the year, and saying that 
"Jewison's direction stamps him unmistakably as an important movie 
director, daring, imaginative, assured." Ashby's editing also drew praise 
for ensuring "the tempo never slackens from the opening shots, though 
it is never hurried or brusque."^' 

The Loved One opened the same week to a decidedly mixed recep- 
tion, gaining the notoriety that Richardson no doubt had hoped for. The 
Hollywood Reporter's reviewer feared that "its sick, sick message may 
be taken to heart and purse by younger audiences," while Variety felt it 
was "so way out . . . — frequently beyond all bounds of propriety in an 
attempt at brilliance — that its appeal probably will be restricted to cir- 
cles which like their entertainment weird. "^^ Critics found it more black 
than comic, audiences were more confused than amused, and — despite 
its all-star cast and MGM's high hopes — the film underperformed at the 
box office. 

Conversely, The Cincinnati Kid was a big hit, earning $6 million 
domestically and $10 million worldwide, and guaranteeing Jewison a 
bright future. Ashby found himself best friends with a young(ish) direc- 
tor on the up who wanted to take his editor along with him. And by the 
time The Cincinnati Kid opened, filming on The Russians Are Coming, 
the Russians Are Coming was well under way. 


Motion Picture Pioneers of America 

All of us, including Hal Ashby, although we didn't share some 
ideology or some political party, we did have strong feelings 
about what America was and what we could be, and we felt 
our responsibilities as artists and citizens. 
— Haskell Wexler 

Back in 1963, Jewison had bought the rights to Nathaniel Benchley's 

The Off-Islanders, a novel about a Russian submarine that gets beached 
off the New England coast. He had engaged William Rose, the writer of 
Genevieve (1953) and The Ladykillers (1955), to adapt the book, but it 
was Christmas 1964 before Rose delivered his first draft. Jewison could 
not interest any of the studios in a film that they felt was, as he put it, 
"about a bunch of communists," but he set it up as part of his three- 
picture deal at the Mirisch Corporation.' Run by brothers Walter, Mar- 
vin, and Harold Mirisch, the company had already attracted top-line 
directors like Billy Wilder and William Wyler by offering them complete 
creative control. 

Jewison and Ashby saw an opportunity to make an antiwar film that 
stressed the similarities between the opposing sides in the Cold War and 
would humanize the Russian sailors whom the Cape Cod residents mis- 
takenly believe are invading their little island. As soon as The Cincinnati 
Kid was ready for release, Jewison went upstate to Mendocino County, 
California — which was doubling as Cape Cod — to begin shooting the 
film, now called The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. 

When filming began on September 9, 1965, Ashby was back in Los 
Angeles, and every day new footage was flown down to him. Despite 
what one might expect from a future director, he was happier being 
away from filming, as it allowed him to focus entirely on the material. 
"I didn't want to know what the problems were," he said. "If it took you 


Motion Picture Pioneers of America 


eight hours to get this particular shot because of this and that, I didn't 
care; what was important was what was happening on the piece of film. 
You put the film together and tell the story in the certain way you feel 
it from the film you have."^ They spoke on the phone every night to 
discuss the dailies, and even though Jewison had J. Terry Williams, his 
editor on the Doris Day picture Send Me No Flowers (1964), working 
alongside Ashby, it was Ashby he most depended on. "He was my rock," 
recalls Jewison. "He was totally supportive. Everything I shot, he loved. 
Whatever I did, he would fix it."^ 

The understanding Ashby and Jewison achieved in their working 
relationship was remarkable. "It was the most productive partnership 
imaginable," Ashby wrote. "From in front, Norman always gave me 
good film. Then, to top it off, he trusted me and my instincts. He never 
stood behind me in the cutting room. He let me select, and cut his film 
as I felt it. It was an editor's dream."'* 

On December 6, location filming on Russians ended, and Jewison 
and the company returned to Hollywood to shoot a week of interiors. 
Around that time, it was announced that Johnny Mandel — who a few 
months later won an Academy Award for Best Song for The Sandpiper 
(1965) — would write the score for Russians. By chance, Ashby and 
Mandel, both excelling in their fields, ended up working together. 

As Ashby settled into his work, he found that the material posed 
some unique challenges. A particular problem was the inconsistency 
from shot to shot caused by the fickle Mendocino weather. As the 
production designer, Robert Boyle, remembered, there would be "six 
kinds of weather every day," including "absolutely dense fog, heavy rain, 
bright sunshine," and this made cutting scenes together difficult and al- 
lowed very little editorial leeway. Boyle recalled that in dealing with this 
problem, Ashby displayed "an editorial genius. He was just marvelous. 
He would take pieces of film from the end — sometimes the wardrobe 
didn't even match — but if it worked he could put it together."^ 

Ashby's main challenge, however, was how to structure the film; with 
five or six separate plotlines, it could have been cut together in an infinite 
number of ways. Ashby created version after version, turning the film in- 
side out and then back again as he worked to find the most watchable and 
logical sequence of scenes. The difficulties, however, seemed only to fuel 
his creativity. "That was a lot of fun to edit, a lot of craziness going on," 


Being Hal Ashby 

he recalled. "Whenever there's craziness going on it's always fun because 
you can get a little crazier, you know, and that's always a great relief. The 
crazier you get, the better chance you have of surviving it all."* 

Someone who added to Ashby's fun in the editing room was Pablo 
Ferro. The young Cuban-born, New York-based graphic artist had made 
an impact with the title sequence for Dr. Strangelove and was now design- 
ing the opening credits for Russians. Ferro was immediately taken with 
Ashby and would become one of his most devoted and lifelong friends. 
"He was so easy and open," he says, adding that the same could not be 
said of Jewison.^ Ferro and Ashby were peas in a pod, both approaching 
their work with a wide-eyed innocence and joy. 

When the film was previewed, audience reactions were mixed, but the 
trades loved it and predicted excellent box-office returns. Variety called 
it an "outstanding cold-war comedy," saying that Jewison had handled 
"the varying comedy techniques with uniform success, obtaining solid 
performances all the way down the line."** The Hollywood Reporter 
also acknowledged its comic strengths ("a brilliantly funny movie, the 
most hilarious picture of the year") and noted: "Like all good comedy, 
it has for its core and springboard the hard facts of life. It strikes to the 
central being of the spectator, playing on his terror and unquenchable 
sense of the ludicrous." All involved were lauded, but Jewison — "one 
of the most important not only of the new, young directors, but in any 
class" — was specially singled out for praise. Both reviews recognized the 
quality of the editing in light of the challenge Ashby had faced, and the 
Reporter called it "some of the best intercutting imaginable."' 

The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming was released 
on May 25, 1966, and the same day the Washington Daily News de- 
clared that it should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, 
not everyone was so liberal minded. Following through on the film's 
message of tolerance, Jewison attended screenings in both Berlin and 
Moscow. Flying back from his triumphal visit to the Soviet Union, 
Jewison was greeted at the Los Angeles International Airport by a U.S. 
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officer, who told him: 
"You're unacceptable." Had he not demanded to call the U.S. vice 
president, Hubert Humphrey — who had praised the film just weeks 
earlier — ^Jewison would have been put on a plane back to Russia or his 
"home," Canada, even though his job, wife, and children were all in 

Motion Picture Pioneers of America 


Los Angeles. Jewison's green card was confiscated, and he was told to 
report to the INS immediately. When Jewison went to try to resolve the 
situation, an incensed Ashby accompanied him, though he risked facing 
severe scrutiny himself. "If you had a problem — an emotional problem, 
a career problem, a drug problem — whatever your problem was, he was 
with you," Jewison recalls. "He was completely non-judgmental.""' 

Much to Jewison and Ashby's delight. The Russians Are Coming 
took nearly $8 million in the United States and became the fifth biggest 
grosser of the year. Encouraged by its success, Jewison made grand plans 
for the future, plans in which Ashby would play an increasingly large 
part. Having proved himself to be a director who could take an uncon- 
ventional idea and turn it into a well-crafted, commercial film, Jewison 
purchased a blank-verse Western, The Judgment of Corey, which he 
planned to make with its poetic dialogue intact. Announcing that the 
film would start shooting in the spring of 1967, possibly with Steve Mc- 
Queen starring. Variety felt moved to proclaim: "Critics of Hollywood, 
please take note, there are those trying something different here."" 

As it turned out, that something different was not The Judgment of 
Corey but In the Heat of the Night. 

Walter Mirisch had bought the rights to John Ball's novel about black 
detective Virgil Tibbs in the summer of 1965, planning to make the 
film quickly with one of the company's lower -profile directors. How- 
ever, Stirling Silliphant's adaptation turned Tibbs's small-town murder 
investigation in the Deep South into a microcosmic examination of the 
American civil rights issue. Jewison saw it as "a plea for interracial un- 
derstanding and respect" and insisted that he direct it." 

Robert Kennedy (whom he'd met while skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho) 
encouraged Jewison to make In the Heat of the Night, but the Mirisches 
saw it as incendiary material that would drive audiences away. For a start, 
the main character was black, so it was guaranteed to make little money 
in the racist South. Jewison wanted to shoot on location but was limited 
by the modest $2.6 million budget allotted him by Walter Mirisch. And 
because it was not safe for Sidney Poitier (who had recently been a target 
of racists while in the South), who was to play Tibbs, to film in the 
script's setting, Mississippi, a tiny town just above the Mason-Dixon 
Line — Sparta, Illinois — was chosen instead. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Ashby played a significant role in recruitment and casting on Heat 
as he was not only the picture's editor but also the "Assistant to the 
Producer," a role created to allow him to be as involved in as many 
elements of the film as possible. Impressed by the Oscar-winning cam- 
erawork of former documentarian Haskell Wexler on Who's Afraid of 
Virginia Woolff (1966), Ashby and Jewison hired him to be the director 
of photography on Heat — despite the fact that he had never shot in color 
before. Ashby had met Wexler on The Best Man, had worked with him 
again on The Loved One, and knew he had a great eye and also shared 
his and Jewison's antiestablishment views. 

By mid-August, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, and Lee Grant had been 
cast, and filming began just over a month later in Sparta. Ashby, however, 
stayed in Los Angeles, casting minor roles and hiring the last remaining 
crew members. He'd been given the chance to edit on location but stuck 
by his belief that the chaos of location filming would prevent him from re- 
sponding freely to the material. Nevertheless, he felt lonely and dislocated 
away from Jewison and the others. 

One of the more enjoyable aspects of Ashby's noneditorial role was 
his working with Lee Grant. Grant, cast as the murdered businessman's 
widow, joined the Sparta company later in the shoot, and one of Ashby's 
tasks in Los Angeles was to help her find the right look for her character 
before she left for Illinois. Ashby drove Grant from store to store, of- 
fering his opinion on her hair, clothes, and shoes. He was relaxed and 
talkative, and in just a few days together they became friends. "He was 
a very straight guy, very easy to be with," Grant recalls. "He was so 
uncoiled that one never had a sense of his power and drive."" 

During the two months of location filming, Ashby still had his usual 
phone conversations with Jewison, but he also rattled off regular memos 
to his colleagues. Even during the rehearsal week before shooting started, 
Ashby sent "The Family" a memo from "Lonesome Luke" telling them: 

a. I MISS you!!! 

b. The above (a.) is full out selfishness and you should also know 
my heart, along with every good thought from inside me, is 
there with you." 

In the same memo, Ashby included what he had found out from the 

Motion Picture Pioneers of America 


coroner's office about dead bodies, providing exact details on how the 
corpse in the film should look as well as a sketch of a corpse with a smile 
on its face. His memos from this period show his playful nature and 
wild, infectious sense of humor. In each one, he used a different name 
for the recipients, from the straightforward, such as "Loves" or "The 
nicest people I know," to the increasingly elaborate, "Pegs of my heart," 
"Dayworkers of the Midwest," or "The Daring Desperates." Ashby, in 
turn, referred to himself as everything from "Crazyhead Hal Ashby" or 
"Captain / Ashby, Ret.," to "P. T. Barnum & Sons" and "The Queen of 

For his friends in distant Illinois, Ashby conjured up images of the 
(more civilized) life he was enjoying back in Los Angeles. "Dearest Mo- 
tion Picture Pioneers of America," he wrote one day. "Well, another day 
of golfing, riding, tea and having a good time in general."^* 

His ability to home in on certain details and play on them for comic 
effect was particularly in evidence in a memo written the day after 
he visited the Pasadena Police Department to do more police-related 

Today dearhearts is Columbus Day. Please observe it accordingly. 

My knowledge of the above came about because of a still 
(thank God) insatiable curious nature. My across the street 
neighbor who I suspect as being a bit on the conservative side; 
Reagan for Gov. stickers on the bumpers of both cars since last 
Xmas yet, etc. . . . Well it seems he has a little flagpole, which I 
hadn't noticed, on his front lawn, and today it had the American 
Flag on it. Hence, I made it a point to find out what's the special 

Columbus, by the way, was a very, very nice man. 

Met with Detective Ray Bartlett yesterday and it was most 
entertaining. He's a registered Republican; is anti-welfare; 
thinks civil rights demonstrations have made the point by now 
and should be fini [sic]. Also, I had the distinct feeling he wanted 
to arrest me.^^ 

When Jewison asked for Ashby's opinion on changing the film's 
title to Between Two Trains, Ashby initially replied seriously, but then 


Being Hal Ashby 

launched into long lists of very silly alternative titles for Jewison's ap- 
proval: The Spartan Boogie Man, Uppity Jig Get Gillespie's Goat, Black 
and White in Color, etc.^^ 

Back in Sparta, Jewison and Wexler were having fun experimenting 
with the photography, the limited budget forcing them to be ultracreative 
and think around corners. Wexler shot handheld, played with focus, 
shot reflections in glass, captured a chase through the woods from the 
perspective of the pack of dogs, and put in the first-ever zoom shot. So 
much innovation made watching the dailies a treat for Ashby, who let 
Jewison know how he felt about their work, describing himself in one 
memo as "old happy (I do like the film) Hal."^' 

Though things were going well in Sparta, Walter Mirisch was pres- 
suring Jewison to bring the film in on budget. Jewison had long told 
Ashby that they were the artists and that producers were "the enemy," 
moneymen who couldn't be allowed to interfere with their creativity, 
and Ashby now felt very strongly about this. On hearing about Mirisch's 
actions, he was consumed by an anger so intense it put him on the edge 
of desperation. In a memo to Jewison entitled "Stupidity," he vented his 

This will most certainly not be a memo of any sort. It will be 
closer to the ramblings of a very very angry young punk. 

Norman, since I talked to you this afternoon, I've become 
so god-damned, furiously, frustrated from anger I don't know 
what to do except sit here at this typewriter and rant and rave 
and hope I can cope with everything without blowing my cool 

To think Walter would put this kind of pressure on you is 
beyond the realm of my comprehension. It is so dumb; so stupid; 
so far out ridiculous I could cry. I guess Russians wasn't enough 
to prove you are an honorable and responsible man. I swear to 
Christ what do you have to do[?] When I look at our dailies, and 
see the extra quality — I'm talking about those values which can- 
not be evaluated — and then I hear what you told me today I feel 
like going kill crazy. You really need that kind of pressure; it's 
so constructive. I'm sure you haven't another thing in the world 
on your mind. Obviously, you don't care about the picture; or 

Motion Picture Pioneers of America 


what's the best way to tell the story. Christ, I've actually seen 
times when I saw something in the dailies that bothered me, and 
if I happened to say I was going to tell you about it somebody 
would inevitabley [sic] say: "Oh don't do that! It might upset 
him!" Do [you] believe how these people think? 

At any rate, I got some of this out of my system; for all the 
good it will do. I'm sure yelling like this will solve the scene. 
Besides, by the time you get this I'll have said the whole thing to 
you over the phone. 

If there is anyone you want me to kick in the shins or bite; 
please, please let me know. 




The devotion to Jewison and the noble cause of filmmaking is very 
evident here, and during his months alone in Los Angeles Ashby had 
decided, despite his usual financial restraint, to put $100 per week of his 
salary back into Jewison's company, Simkoe. Ashby thought it could be 
used toward such things as paying for a screenwriter on an upcoming 
project, The Landlord, a novel by the black writer Kristin Hunter about 
a young, rich owner of a black ghetto tenement. "If you got it to spend; 
spend it where it will give you the most of whatever the hell you want," 
he wrote to Jewison. "And right now I want to spend it on something I 
believe in. Me! You! . . . And anybody else around who wants to groove 
the way we do. . . . Think of it? We got a too much Director (who, bye 
the bye is flipping me with such nice things. I must say, Norman, you 
really are a joy — you are many, many things and they all add up to one 
groovy human being. It's a good feeling to dig someone that much."^" 

In November, the company returned to Los Angeles. Once again 
surrounded by his friends, Ashby happily started assembling a first cut 
of Heat. "So much of this film, and the success of this film, . . . came 
through in the editing process with Hal Ashby," says Jewison. "What is 
great about the editing, and what Hal preserved in this film constantly, is 
those moments without any dialogue, which essentially are the best mo- 
ments in a movie, regardless of what the scriptwriters tell you, because 
it's the human moments, the emotional moments that we hang on to."^^ 


Being Hal Ashby 

One of the most powerful of these moments comes near the be- 
ginning of the film, when Warren Oates finds Sidney Poitier alone in 
the station waiting room and frisks him, assuming he is the murderer 
simply because he is black. As the deliberately humiliating body search 
is conducted, a simple side-on shot shows the silent Poitier: his body is 
arched as he places his hands against the wall, his face barely registers 
any emotion, but his eyes burn with righteous anger. 

During the editing of Heat, Ashby also managed to put his love of 
music to good use. He was looking at the silent footage for the opening 
sequence, for which Wexler had shot the train coming into Sparta with 
the image moving in and out of focus. As Ashby couldn't ever bear to cut 
silent footage endlessly, he played a song over it, "Chitlins and Candied 
Yams" from Ray Charles's Ray's Moods (1966) album: "I just laid the 
song in, and I'm telling you, the changes in music that went on were the 
changes that went on with the focus," Ashby said. "I really started to 
realize the whole thing. I've always gotten into the music in relation to 
film and what it does — just the rhythms that you have in the film at any 
given time and how they feed off the music."^^ This led to the idea of 
having Charles sing the film's theme song (both that song and the film's 
score were written by jazz musician Quincy Jones, a longtime friend of 

Though Ashby's career was at an all-time high, that very success was 
causing serious problems in his marriage. He was so engrossed in editing 
that he often put off going home, knowing full well that Shirley was 
waiting for him and his dinner had been on the table for hours. "Hey 
man," Jewison would tell him, "it's OK to be obsessed, but I think we 
should go home now." Yet Ashby found it more and more difficult and 
sometimes even slept in his editing room. According to Jewison, Ashby 
and Shirley were both flower children, "like two bohemian students. But 
I didn't think she was very solid. She wasn't very stable emotionally."^^ 
Stable or not, Shirley was understandably unhappy about Ashby 
spending so much time away from her and Carrie. He often returned 
home to arguments or accusations, and this, in turn, made him even 
more inclined to stay at work, creating a vicious circle. It was far from 
the perfect home life that Shirley had hoped for and that Ashby had 
believed he could give her. 

Motion Picture Pioneers of America 


They were now living in a house on Roscomare Road, in the afflu- 
ent Bel Air area, just off Mulholland Drive. It was beyond their means, 
but Shirley had set her heart on having a dream house to complete her 
idealized image of family life. The upshot, however, was that they had to 
take out a second mortgage, which added financial stress on top of the 
emotional stress that had built up in the relationship. 

A further problem was that as Ashby isolated himself in the edit- 
ing room, he became increasingly dependent on alcohol. He had been 
drinking since he was a teenager, had run with a group that smoked and 
drank heavily during the 1950s, and later recalled that by the mid-1960s 
he "was a great drinker." However, he said: "One morning I woke up 
and decided I was poisoning myself."^"* Ashby all but ceased drinking 
from this point on, only occasionally allowing himself a glass of wine or 
a shot of tequila with friends. However, the tendencies that made him an 
alcoholic — a fascination with mood-altering substances and an addic- 
tive personality — remained, manifesting themselves now in his drug use 
and continued workaholism. 

Around the beginning of April, Ashby and Shirley separated, and he 
left the family home, decamping to Jewison's office, a bungalow on the 
Goldwyn lot. Formerly inhabited by Frank Sinatra, it had a bed and a 
kitchen in addition to a production office and cutting rooms. "Having 
that bungalow," recalls Jewison, "was the smartest thing we ever did 
because we were all alone, away from the suits," but now it provided a 
refuge for Ashby from the wreckage of his marriage. 

April got no better for Ashby when the Oscars rolled around on the 
tenth. Russians was nominated in four categories, with the film up for 
Best Actor (Alan Arkin), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture, and 
Ashby and J. Terry Williams shortlisted in the Best Editing category. To 
everybody's disappointment, the film came away without a single award, 
leaving Jewison and Ashby to hope that In the Heat of the Night might 
fare better in a year's time. 

In mid-May, Heat previewed in San Francisco. Ashby and Jewison, 
sitting nervously at the back of the cinema, heard the audience laugh- 
ing at scenes that weren't supposed to be funny. Walking out after the 
screening, Jewison was distraught. 

"I've ruined the movie," he said. 


Being Hal Ashby 

"You're wrong, man," Ashby protested. 

They ended up walking for hours through the night streets, discuss- 
ing the audience's reaction. Jewison was adamant that he had botched 
his chance to make even a small difference in the civil rights struggle, 
that the film was a failure. 

"You don't get it man," Ashby persisted. "The audience was really 
into the film. Maybe they weren't exactly sure how to react because the 
movie was such a new experience for them. The movie's so different." 

"They laughed," Jewison said. "I can't believe they laughed so 

"Not at the movie, man. With the movie. They were so knocked out 
by it, they had to react the only way they knew how in a dark theater. 
You have to expect some participation from an audience." 

"I don't think so," said Jewison. "I've blown it."^* 



It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the 
age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch 
of beUef, it was the epoch of increduHty, it was the season 
of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of 
hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before 
us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to 
Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. 
— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859) 

"Have you ever gone to a preview and seen a film so outstanding that 
you wanted to rush into the street, grab the first person you see, and 
shout 'Don't miss this when it comes to your favorite theatre!' Well, 
this is exactly how I felt when I saw In the Heat of the Night," enthused 
Radie Harris in her Hollywood Reporter column. "If it isn't the big 
'sleeper' of the year, I'll toss my personal crystal ball overboard into the 
East River."! 

In early June, a new glow of optimism appeared in Ashby's life. In 
the Heat of the Night now seemed to be hitting just the right note with 
preview audiences; he and Norman Jewison were about to embark on a 
new film. The Thomas Crown Affair, in Boston; and an unusual proposi- 
tion had given Ashby and Shirley a chance at reconciliation. 

During the slow disintegration of their relationship, Ashby and Shir- 
ley had been in the process of trying to adopt a "hard-to-place" child, 
which Shirley hoped would help bring them back together. (Ashby alleg- 
edly had had a vasectomy sometime after leaving Ogden, so adoption 
might have been their only option.) When Ashby left, Shirley's shot at 
adopting went with him. However, before anybody had found out about 
the separation, Shirley appealed to him to help her. 

"If there is one thing I'm good at," she said, "it's being a mother, 



Being Hal Ashby 

and I want to follow through with the adoption! Will you play the game? 
Will you help me?" 

For Ashby, this meant not only paying for the adoption, but also 
spending time getting to know the child. There was also a tacit implica- 
tion that by playing "the game," Shirley and Ashby were taking a step 
toward mending their marriage and becoming a proper family again. 

Shirley didn't press him for an immediate decision, saying simply, 
"Think about these things, and let me know your decision later." 

Ashby's desire to be a rescuer once again took over; though he no 
longer found Shirley irresistible, he could not resist the opportunity to 
save her. Against his better judgment, he agreed to go along with her 
plan a few days later. "God Bless You!" Shirley cried, overjoyed.^ 

Shirley ultimately decided to adopt a mixed-race toddler originally 
called Baby Boy Lawrence, whom they called Steven. Steven, who be- 
came known as Teeg, was three years old when Ashby and Shirley began 
the adoption process in the spring of 1967. A few years earlier, Sammy 
Davis had adopted a mixed-race child, and now, in the wake of the 
Watts riots, Ashby may have seen his adoption of Steven as a politically 
symbolic action. Ashby and Jewison had endless conversations about the 
adoption, and Jewison agreed to be his guarantor and tell the authorities 
that Ashby and Shirley were good parents. Nonetheless, at one point 
Jewison sat with the two of them and asked, "Are you sure you want to 
do this? It's eighteen to twenty years of your life!"^ 

Throughout the making of In the Heat of the Night, Jewison had worked 
with Alan Trustman, a practicing lawyer, on his script for The Thomas 
Crown Affair, then called The Crown Caper. The story of Thomas 
Crown, a Boston banker who masterminds audacious bank robberies for 
kicks and is pursued, both professionally and romantically, by alluring 
insurance investigator Vicki Anderson, was fundamentally shallow in 
nature, putting style before profundity, and required leads who were 
classy and sexy. The role of Crown was given to Steve McQueen af- 
ter the actor convinced Jewison that, despite appearances, he had the 
necessary sophistication, but the casting of Vicki confounded Jewison 
and Ashby until, just weeks before shooting began, they chose a young 
actress named Faye Dunaway, who had just completed filming her first 
feature, Bonnie and Clyde (1967). 



With the leads in place, there was just enough time before shooting 
started in Boston for Jewison to take Ashby and Haskell Wexler up to 
Montreal to Expo '67. He wanted them to see Canadian filmmaker Chris 
Chapman's A Place to Stand (1967), in which multiple screen techniques 
condensed more than an hour of footage into less than twenty minutes, 
with a view to using multiscreen as a stylistic device in The Thomas 
Crown Affair. Jewison and Wexler had so enjoyed experimenting with 
the cinematography on In the Heat of the Night, and Ashby had so en- 
joyed cutting their footage, that they agreed that in The Thomas Crown 
Affair visuals would be king. 

The screening of A Place to Stand didn't disappoint, and Ashby, 
Jewison, and Wexler headed to Boston plotting the use of multiscreen 
in The Thomas Crown Affair; Ashby was probably the most excited 
of the three and looked back on Expo '67 as "the greatest film show I 
had ever seen in my life.'"' While in Montreal, Ashby had bought some 
Cuban cigars, but on his reentry into the United States, customs officials 
wouldn't allow him to bring them into the country. To get rid of them, 
Ashby went down the customs queue, offering each person a cigar. He 
took devilish glee in watching Americans and Canadians alike puffing 
on their cigars, blowing smoke into the faces of the U.S. officials. 

With each film, his partnership with Jewison led to greater responsi- 
bilities for Ashby, and on The Thomas Crown Affair he had an associate 
producer role in addition to his usual editing duties. According to Jewi- 
son, he was to act as "casting consultant, script idea man, and all-round 
good companion," and the job title basically allowed Ashby to work 
more closely with Jewison on the film from beginning to end. ^ Jewison 
was producing as well as directing again, and as Ashby acknowledged: 
"When you're really directing there's not a lot of producing you can 
do."* Ashby therefore handled whatever producing duties Jewison was 
too busy to fulfill. By now, the pair knew each other so well that they 
had a synergistic artistic and personal rapport. "I saw what a force Hal 
was, making Norman's creativity blossom," says Haskell Wexler. "They 
were a good combo, and I don't think Norman's made as good pictures 
since he and Hal were partners."^ 

Ashby spent little time on set and instead tinkered with the script, 
sorted out any problems with the day-to-day running of the produc- 
tion, and prepared the ground for postproduction. However, when he 


Being Hal Ashby 

did venture on set, he watched closely how Jewison worked. Jewison 
treated his actors with kid gloves, always putting them at ease and prais- 
ing them whenever possible; if he was particularly pleased with a take, 
he would grab McQueen and Dunaway and give them a huge bear hug. 
Yet despite this gentle touch, he was, according to Ashby, "more shrewd 
than some actors think." Jewison had a hard-edged alter ego, "Irving 
Christianson," who Jewison claimed produced his films. "Up in Boston 
we got a call from the Mirisches," Ashby recounted. "They say, 'You're a 
couple of days over schedule. Why don't you come back to Hollywood?' 
So Norman says, 'Wait a minute, I'll ask Irving.' Then he comes back 
and says, 'Irving wants to stay a few more days,' and hangs up."^ 

While the company was in Boston, a special preview screening of In 
the Heat of the Night was organized in the city. The film's first reviews, 
from Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, must have somewhat dis- 
appointed Jewison, but they were extremely pleasing to the Mirisches. 
Both critics saw that, aside from its racial theme, the film was essentially 
a flimsy potboiler. In the Variety critic's eyes, the standout performances 
by the leads helped "overcome some noteworthy flaws," Jewison's direc- 
tion was "sometimes . . . pretentious," the script was "uneven," and the 
film as a whole was "a triumph over some of its basic parts."' The Hol- 
lywood Reporter also found Jewison's direction overly arty and thought 
that Heat "effects a feeling of greater importance by its veneer of social 
significance and the illusion of depth in its use of racial color." Both 
reviews praised Ashby's editing (though Variety criticized the audacious 
use of long shots in the chase sequence), and, significantly, both also 
predicted big box office for the film, with the Reporter saying it would 
"emerge one of the top boxoffice winners of the year."^° 

For Ashby and Jewison, it was difficult to decide whether critical or 
commercial success was more important. "We wanted to make a film 
that would make money, that people would see," says Haskell Wexler, 
"and would also express our awareness that progress was being made 
and that human values can supersede bigotry."" While the three saw 
themselves as artists and sought validation from their intellectual peers, 
good box office was arguably more crucial as it meant that large num- 
bers of people were being exposed to and, they hoped, embracing, their 
message of racial tolerance. In the end, they got both. When the film 



was released in August, the reviews were predominantly positive and 
the business extraordinary: by the end of 1967, it had earned an enor- 
mous $14 milHon. By packaging the ideas of the civil rights movement 
in a detective story, they had gotten their message across to mainstream 

As was his way, Jewison shot as much of The Thomas Crown Affair 
on location as possible, but after twelve weeks of filming in Boston, the 
company returned to Los Angeles to shoot interiors on the Goldwyn lot. 
For Ashby, this meant he would now have to face up to his situation at 
home. The adoption process was moving along, and Steven had been 
living with Shirley and Carrie since the middle of May. Shirley had sent 
Ashby a Father's Day card she had made with Steven and Carrie, enclos- 
ing drawings by both children, including one of "Papa Cat." 

In Ashby's absence, Shirley was trying to keep the possibility of 
them being a family again in his mind, but as always Ashby's workaholic 
personality meant that he put editing and films first, to the detriment 
of his wife and children. His biggest frustration in life was that there 
weren't enough hours in the day to get his work done. "Great God but 
the time do fly," he wrote during the filming of Heat. "Each day I tell 
myself I'll get further ahead and we all know what really happens don't 
we."^^ Shirley's main frustration was that her husband was a barely pres- 
ent figure in the family home. 

As the marriage progressed, Shirley's relative abandonment in the 
home led her to spend large amounts of money on herself and the house, 
much to Ashby's anger and frustration. Since the 1950s, Ashby had been 
very careful with whatever small amount he was earning, and as he 
moved up the ladder and his weekly paycheck got bigger, this attitude 
hadn't changed. 

After Thomas Crown wrapped in late September, he took some time 
off to try to make sense of what was going on in his life. "It took me 
about six weeks to go into the cutting room," he recalled later. "I had 
a lot of things on my mind."^' After carefully considering his position, 
he wrote an anguished letter to Shirley in which he voiced his frustra- 
tions about their current situation as well as profound doubts about his 
involvement in the adoption process. Clearly overwhelmed, he wrote 
that since Steven had arrived in their home "the emotional and financial 


Being Hal Ashby 

pressures have been piled one on top of the other with an unrelenting 
consistency, and in such a manner, that I've finally reached the breaking 

"Unfortunately," he continued, "it's difficult to describe the actual 
causes of emotional stress, let alone the results, for they seem to thrive on 
a cumulative basis. One thing hits you, then another, and another, and 

another, again and again, until it becomes a nebulous mass of churning 
anxiety. As a result, these feelings have reached the all consuming stage 
where I am unable to cope with them any longer. In fact, this thrashing 
about inside myself to find some sort of inner stamina to help carry me 
through these emotional assaults has brought me to a level of exhaus- 
tion and despair I didn't believe could exist without the advent of total 

"The burden has increased by the mere fact that it's been over four 
years since I took more than three days off in a row, and I'm extremely 
aware of how tired I am because of this. However, the compulsions 
which drive me in this area are not new, and I'm used to working long 
stretches without time off. Now, the big difference comes when the little 
something inside me says you're pushing too hard; relax; go away; rest 
your mind and body; recharge them. Of course, I can't do this because 
the loss of income from a two or three week rest period, combined with 
the expense of going somewhere would be disastrous. Hell, it was a 
scramble to get three or four hundred dollars so I could go to Expo '67 
for a few days." 

Ashby had calculated that during the twelve weeks he was away 
in Boston, Shirley had spent almost $10,000 — this at a time when she 
was off work getting to know Steven — and he didn't believe she would 
become thriftier. "If I'll just tell you what to do — you'll do it!" he wrote. 
"However, when I ask you to look for another, less expensive place to 
live, the request is ignored. When I complain about $2,000.00 per year 
spent on schools for two children, who aren't yet (either of them) in 
the first grade, then it's 'up-tight time.' It's so tight you can't even talk 
about it. If I ask when you plan on looking for work — again it's 'up-tight 
time' — and besides everything you made would have to go towards pay- 
ing somebody to care for the children. Whatever happened to that inde- 
pendent lady who wouldn't think of asking anything from anybody?" 

Ashby wanted Shirley to become financially independent, which 



meant ceasing to use his charge accounts and putting the house entirely 
in her name and having her make the payments on it herself, as he now 
lived in the office on the Goldwyn lot rather than at home. He also 
suggested that Steven should be adopted by Shirley rather than both of 
them. "I honestly believe this is the fair thing to do for Carrie's sake," 
he maintained. "As you know, Carrie isn't legally my child, and my legal 
adoption of Steven would really have her out on a limb if something 
were to happen to me — as the attorney once said — if someone were to 
question it. . . ." 

Ashby's closing statement reveals just how extreme his feelings were 
about the situation: "If by the time I finish work on this film, you haven't 
sold the house or obtained a job of your own, or found some means of 
income, then let this be fair and adequate warning — I will blow every- 
thing. I will not work my life away just to have somebody drain what's 
left down the tubes. I'm more prepared to let all of my work during the 
past few years go straight down those tubes, but I'll do it of my own 
volition — no matter how painful it might be — and I'll find that beach 
somewhere in this world."''' 

Having made his feelings known, Ashby retreated into the sanctuary 
of the editing room and threw himself into the cutting of The Thomas 
Crown Affair. He started off with the first three reels but could not put 
them together satisfactorily. The plan had been to create multiscreen 
sequences within the film, but as this idea had been conceived only a 
few weeks before filming began, there had been no storyboarding, and 
creating a sequence from scratch proved almost impossible. Fortunately, 
Ashby remembered that Pablo Ferro had worked with multiscreen on a 
commercial and invited him to take over that part of the editing. Ferro 
was not only a highly creative and unconventional artist but also a wel- 
come ally in difficult times. He faced a huge challenge as he had only two 
Moviola editing desks and a sketch artist to mock up the multiples he 
was planning, but the now iconic robbery and polo sequences he created 
are arguably the most stylish parts of a film in which dash and panache 
are everything. 

Another important element in the style offensive was the music: 
Ashby brought in Michel Legrand (whose score for The Umbrellas of 
Cherbourg [1964] he and Jewison both greatly admired) and had him 
write music in response to the film. Legrand composed eighty minutes 


Being Hal Ashby 

of lush orchestral music that Ashby listened to as he cut, matching the 
music to the image where it fit best. Legrand's collaboration with Alan 
and Marilyn Bergman on the film's iconic theme song, "The Windmills 
of Your Mind," added a further touch of style to the proceedings. 

Though Ralph E. Winters (who was brought in to help finish up the 
film) actually edited the film's famous "chess with sex" scene, there are 
moments in The Thomas Crown Affair that were Ashby's alone: near 
the end, the image of McQueen and Dunaway sitting happily by their 
beach campfire freezes and becomes a frame in the top-left-hand corner 
of the screen while, in multiscreen format, we see the second robbery 
take place. Jewison, to whom "the editing in this picture is perhaps as 
stylish as the cinematography and the performances," describes this mo- 
ment as "a real kind of intellectual, deeply sophisticated cinematic idea, 
editorially. And if someone wasn't high on marijuana, I'm sure, at the 
moment, that image wouldn't have even remained in the film. But that's 
how free we were."'^ 

Ashby recalled that he was initially daunted by the prospect of editing 
The Thomas Crown Affair: "Finally one day I said, 'I'm going to go in 
and do it,' and I was in there for six months, seven days a week."'* Once 
he'd entered the editing room, he claimed, "I didn't leave it for seven 
months. I mean, I literally didn't leave it. I stayed in it, I slept in it, I lived 
in it for seven months. I worked that hard on it."'^ That Ashby worked 
hard is indisputable; however, he did leave the editing room on a number 
of very significant occasions during that six-month period from the start 
of November 1967 to the end of April 1968. 

Ashby spent Christmas Day and New Year's with Shirley, during 
which time she seemingly attempted a reconciliation. However, just two 
days after an intimate New Year's dinner with her, Ashby wrote to her 
to say he was offering her $200 per week and nothing more. 

"After Christmas Eve, and dinner the other night," he wrote, "it has 
been especially traumatic to sit and put all that down on paper, but it 
seems one trauma, in the end, outweighs the other. 

"I know, when you read the note, your reaction will not be pleasant. 
You will say it's impossible, and you won't be able to manage. Obviously, 
when you look at the standard of living you seem to expect to maintain, 
it's true, it will be most difficult to manage. 



". . . Perhaps one of the points I'm trying to make out of all this is 
that life does change. Things don't stay the same, and we try to adapt in 
some way or the other, if for no other reason than survival."^** 

After writing this letter, he spent hours jotting down figures, trying 
to calculate what Shirley was due and what she would have to struggle 
for herself. In the letters he sent to her in the ensuing weeks, his tone was 
cool and practical, but never cruel. He was trying to be fair but felt that 
she had been too reliant on him. 

Despite his misgivings, however, he remained a coconspirator in 
Steven's adoption and thus tied to Shirley in their deceit, if nothing else. 
During the probationary period of the adoption, Shirley told Ashby 
whenever someone from the Los Angeles County Bureau of Adoptions 
was visiting so that he could be at the house and present the image of a 
normal father in a normal family. It was impossible for Ashby and Shirley 
to completely hide their marital problems, but they never let it slip that 
Ashby only ever came home an hour before the social worker arrived or 
that he left the house just minutes after the social worker did. 

On March 15, 1968, ten months after Steven's arrival, Ashby and 
Shirley attended an adoption hearing. Ashby was asked routinely wheth- 
er he knew that, if the adoption were ratified, Steven would legally be his 
and that, if he and Shirley divorced, he would be obliged to provide for 
him. He calmly nodded yes. The Ashbys' social worker recommended 
that the court approve their petition for adoption, and Ashby and Shirley 
left that Friday afternoon as young Teeg's new parents. 

Bystanders at the courthouse might have noticed that rather than 
leaving together to celebrate, Mr. and Mrs. Ashby went off in separate 
directions. While Shirley went home, Hal headed for the bank, where 
he discovered that one savings account, which was supposed to contain 
$1,100, had been emptied by Shirley a month earlier. Incensed, he im- 
mediately called his business manager and told him to cancel his weekly 
payments to Shirley and to stop paying her bills. When, early the next 
week, Shirley discovered what had happened, she tried repeatedly to 
contact Ashby, but he refused to speak to her. After three days of fruit- 
less phone calls, she became desperate and went to her lawyer to seek 
advice. By the end of that day, March 21, Shirley had filed a divorce 
action against Ashby, asking for custody of and support for Steven. 

Ashby claimed in court that Shirley had "committed a fraud upon 


Being Hal Ashby 

him and upon the court in that she then had no intention to live with 
him as his wife and form a united home in which to raise the adopted 
child, and, on the contrary, intended to divorce [him]."'' Ashby, in his 
distressed state, believed that she had used him to adopt Steven and had 
all along planned to divorce him as soon as the adoption came through 
and have Ashby support her and the two children financially without be- 
ing a part of their lives. (According to Carrie, he lodged a paternity suit 
in an attempt to prove that she was not his daughter, but the case was 
thrown out.) It's questionable that Ashby had wanted a reconciliation 
with Shirley, but her betrayal left him stung and embittered. 

Shirley denied Ashby's accusations and maintained that the with- 
drawal she had made represented half of a $2,200 tax refund that they 
had apparently agreed to split. (The previous extent of her spending of 
Ashby's money, and the fact that on a number of occasions following 
their divorce she forged Ashby's signature to fraudulently attempt to col- 
lect thousands of dollars in insurance claims, might make us view this 
explanation with suspicion.) 

At the divorce hearing on April 4, Shirley was given custody of Car- 
rie and Steven, Ashby was granted visitation rights, and Shirley's at- 
tempt to have a restraining order taken out against Ashby was quashed. 
The house was put entirely in Shirley's name, but Ashby was ordered to 
pay both mortgages on the house and the house's upkeep plus all utility 
bills, phone bills, and medical bills. He was also to pay for the family's 
insurance and the children's schooling (which he did for longer than he 
was obliged to, paying for Carrie's college education) and give Shirley 
$100 alimony per week. One of the few positive points for Ashby was 
that Shirley got their Volvo and he was allowed to keep his beloved 1964 

Ashby unsuccessfully tried to have his adoption of Steven annulled 
and on numerous occasions contested his obligation to pay for such 
things as the children's medical bills and Shirley's sessions with her psy- 
chiatrist. In 1970, when Steven was diagnosed as having "adjustment 
difficulties," Ashby wrote to Shirley refusing to pay for his psychiatric 

Perhaps I don't understand the philosophy of deceit, but some- 
where in the density of your mind, you must have some idea of 



the financial burden imposed on me, while you pursue such a 
philosophy, as a means, to try and [sic] fulfill your own peculiar 

As with any child, my sympathies go to Steven. I know how 
difficult it is for an adult to live with someone who is so expertly 
adroit, and talented, when it comes to lying. For a child, it must 
verge on the impossible. If you decide to keep Steven under the 
therapeutic help of [his psychiatrist], you might suggest she de- 
vote most of the time just trying to make Steven understand, 
and accept the fact, he was adopted by a mother who practices 
the art of dishonesty as a life style. 

Just hours after the divorce hearing, Ashby learned that Martin 
Luther King Jr., the leader of the civil rights movement, had been shot 
dead in Memphis, Tennessee. Ashby and Jewison were greatly affected 
by King's death, and along with Haskell Wexler, Quincy Jones, Sidney 
Poitier, Lena Horne, Marlon Brando, Tony Franciosa, James Baldwin, 
and farmworkers' union leader, Cesar Chavez, they chartered a plane 
to Atlanta to attend the funeral on April 9. "It was very quiet on board 
that plane," Jewison remembers. "We were all overcome with a sense of 
hopelessness, a sense that the anger and bitterness in the country were 
so great, no one could save the future. "^^ 

That night, the group slept on a hotel floor, all overcome by the emo- 
tion of the situation. The following day, Ashby and Jewison joined the 
massed mourners, said to number as many as 300,000, as they escorted 
King's coffin to his final resting place. "I had never been that political 
before," says Quincy Jones, "but following the mule-drawn wagon car- 
rying Dr. King's casket through the streets ... in a crowd of thousands 
pushed me right to the edge."^^ Jones recalls that Ashby walked "con- 
fused and teary-eyed" beside him.^^ It was the belief of many that Bobby 
Kennedy, who marched with them at the funeral and whose own brother. 
President John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated five years earlier, was 
the only man who could bring the country together, the only man who 
could save America. 

In observance of King's death, the Academy Awards ceremony was post- 
poned until the day after King's funeral. Now more prescient than ever. 


Being Hal Ashby 

In the Heat of the Night was nominated in six categories, including Best 
Picture, with Rod Steiger (Best Actor), Stirling Silliphant (Best Adapted 
Screenplay), Jewison (Best Director), and Ashby among the nominees. 
Though Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde and Stanley Kramer's Guess 
Who's Coming to Dinner were tipped to be the big winners (both had 
ten nominations), it was In the Heat of the Night that won the first 
award of the evening, Best Sound, and for the next hour or so kept on 

Best Editing was the tenth award to be handed out that night, and 
Ashby — according to Pablo Ferro's (possibly apocryphal) story — almost 
wasn't there to pick up his statuette. Ashby, in the editing room with 
Ferro working late on The Thomas Crown Affair, was not intending to 
go to the ceremony. However, Ferro managed to convince him that as 
they had the tickets, they might as well go. Already very late, the pair 
hurried to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, where the ceremony was 
being held, and were just walking into the theater when Ashby heard his 
name being called. 

Spectators in the audience, and millions of television viewers world- 
wide, saw a bearded, bespectacled man in a casual jacket and turtleneck 
rush awkwardly down the side aisle and bustle onto the stage. However, 
once there, he flashed a charming smile at Dame Edith Evans, who was 
waiting to hand him his award, and delivered a surprisingly lucid ac- 
ceptance speech. "To repeat the words of a very dear friend of mine last 
year when he picked up his Oscar," Ashby said (referring to Haskell 
Wexler), "I only hope we can use all our talents and creativity towards 
peace and love."^'* On a night of somber and respectful tributes, Ashby's 
short speech stood out as the most heartfelt: he did not thank a long list 
of people; he simply spoke his words, raised his statuette in acknowledg- 
ment, and walked off the stage. 

Jewison missed out on Best Director, but he and Ashby were de- 
lighted to see Steiger and Silliphant win, and In the Heat of the Night 
claim the big one. Best Picture of the Year. "We all felt that the success 
of the movie was more than what such things tend to be," says Jewison. 
"It was a confirmation that America was ready for our message. That 
it was ready for Martin Luther King's message of hope and for Bobby 
Kennedy's message of reconciliation."^' 

In posed pictures taken after the ceremony, Ashby stands alongside 



Edith Evans looking happy, but far from overwhelmed. During the mak- 
ing of Heat, he had joked: "Praising me can be a very dangerous thing. I 
become very important to myself, and sometimes go for days without so 
much as a 'good morning nod' to anybody because they are not worthy 
of same. However, I must say I do love the feeling."^* 

Although the Oscar represented the pinnacle of his career as an 
editor, his mind was preoccupied with his work on Thomas Crown, his 
divorce, and America's troubles. Ashby was, in fact, a little embarrassed 
to have won, confessing later: "The competition — particularly Dede Al- 
len who edited Bonnie and Clyde — was too good. I felt my award was 
part of the sweep for In the Heat of the Night. I went so far as to try and 
apologize to Dede, a friend of mine and possibly the best editor in the 
business."^' The whole idea of winning was also at odds with his hippie 
philosophy. "All awards are kind of strange," he pondered, "because if 
you go along with the idea of winning, what you're basically doing is 
hoping someone else will lose. . . . The biggest thrill I got out of it was 
my friends' reaction, because they seemed to be so pleased on my behalf, 
and I enjoyed that."^* 

His family's reaction was also ecstatic. The Ogden Standard Ex- 
aminer quoted their proud comments, with Eileen pointing out that his 
Oscar was most deserved as "he has worked very, very hard at this."^' 
The article, made up of information gleaned from Ashby's Ogden rela- 
tives, stated that he lived with his wife and family in Bel Air. Ashby had 
not told them that he had left the house in Bel Air a year before or that 
he and Shirley were now divorced. 


Where It's At 

If you did not believe in God, in the importance of marriage, 
in the U.S. government, in the sanity of poHticians, ... in the 
wisdom of your elders, you automatically believed in art. 
— Ben Hecht 

In the days following the Oscars, Ashby was flooded with telegrams, 
phone calls, and letters from friends and excited well-wishers. Haskell 

Wexler sent three notes, Marilyn and Alan Bergman wrote that they 
hoped it would be "the first of a string of those little fellows that will 
someday adorn your pad," and his assistant, Byron "Buzz" Brandt, 
wrote him a poem: 

It was a thrill working beside you 
And watching that flick come alive 
Being molded and shaped like a statue 
By tender hands, deep feeling and drive. ^ 

There were even messages from luminaries like Steve McQueen ("Con- 
gratulations on your Oscar Groovy Really Groovy") and the head of the 
Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti.^ But the gestures 
that meant the most to Ashby were a phone call from William Wyler 
and a note from Bob Swink. Ashby was quick to acknowledge his debt 
to Wyler and told him, "The time I spent working with you and Bob 
Swink had more to do with me being 'me' than anything I can think 
of or imagine. You are both responsible for the planting and nurturing 
of those seeds which led to any aesthetic or thoughtful attitudes I now 
have about film, story telling, or more important — life itself."^ His most 
tender sentiments, however, were reserved for Swink: "Please know your 
son, 'the oscar winner,' would never have been if you weren't such a 


Where It's At 


damned beautiful, thoughtful, patient teacher, friend and father. How 
could I ever hope to express, in words, how much you have done for me. 
Obviously, it's an impossible task, so just know in your heart, the hours 
of my life spent with you are more important than any award ever could 
be to me.'"* 

Ashby's feeling of debt to Wyler and Swink was particularly acute 
because of a conversation he'd had during the making of The Thomas 
Crown Affair. Jewison had suddenly turned to Ashby, with a smile, and 
asked him, "What do you want to do?" 

"Well, I want to make films," Ashby finally replied, struggling to 
get the words out of his mouth. "I want to direct. That's where it's at, 
isn't it?" 

"Right!" said Jewison. "So let's find something for you." 

"It really blew my mind," Ashby wrote later. "In all the time I had 
known Norman, we never once touched on the subject, and here this beau- 
tiful, sensitive dude was standing there asking me about my dream."' 

Jewison was sad at the prospect of losing his editor, but his personal 
relationship with Ashby took precedence over the professional one, and 
he was thrilled to be able to help a dear friend fulfill a long-held dream. 
What's more, Ashby needed to move on for the sake of his sanity. 

His total focus on work to the detriment of everything else had all 
but destroyed his personal life, reducing his world to the cutting room. 
"Studio editing rooms are the most depressing places in the world," he 
said.* "I worked in those tiny rooms with those institutional green walls 
till I thought I'd go crazy." ^ Ashby finally admitted to himself that the 
strain of editing was beginning to sap his once insatiable appetite for his 
job. "I'd been working 17 hours a day, 7 days a week for 10 years," he 
said, looking back on his editing career. "I'd wake up at 3 a.m. and go to 
work. I'd try to leave the studio at 6 and still be there at 9. I'd got better 
and better at my work, meanwhile wrecking [my] marriages. Suddenly, I 
was tired. I'd become a film editor because everyone said it was the best 
training for a director. But, suddenly, I was almost 40, and I no longer 
had the energy to pursue it. So I stopped."** 

To prepare Ashby for directing, Jewison kept him on as associate 
producer but reduced his editorial duties so he could be on set to watch 
and learn. To facilitate this, Ralph E. Winters was brought in to edit 
the final sequences of The Thomas Crown Affair, and Ashby took the 


Being Hal Ashby 

role of supervising editor. After Martin Luther King's death, Ashby and 
Jewison had renewed their commitment to make socially relevant films 
rather than stylish but empty confections like The Thomas Crown Affair. 
They had two projects lined up, The Landlord and The Confessions of 
Nat Turner, the latter based on a controversial novel by William Styron 
about the real-life leader of a slave rebellion in the 1830s. Robert Ken- 
nedy, with whom Jewison had maintained a friendship, was enthused 
about their plans and sent Jewison more books that he thought might 
help with the research for the Nat Turner film. 

However, next up was Gaily, Gaily, an $8 million adaptation of Ben 
Hecht's autobiographical novel set in the 1910s that Jewison envisioned 
as a lavish and intelligent period bildungsroman, America's answer to 
Tom Jones. Ashby was once again responsible for finding a composer 
(he chose the venerable Henry Mancini) and honing the script, while 
Jewison also handed over much of the casting to him. Second only to 
Jewison in seniority, Ashby thrived on the responsibility and visibly en- 
joyed the process, coming up with fun casting ideas, like having celebrity 
hairdresser Jay Sebring in the role of "Barber." 

Queen Lil (the madam of the bordello that the young hero, Ben, mis- 
takes for a rooming house) was to be played by Melina Mercouri, the wife 
of director Jules Dassin. A great admirer of Robert Kennedy, Mercouri 
got Jewison to arrange a meeting with him after the announcement of 
the California primary result on June 4. Minutes after Kennedy's victory 
speech, however, the president-in-waiting was assassinated. 

Coming exactly two months after King's assassination, Robert Ken- 
nedy's death extinguished hope in the hearts of millions. Ashby vented 
his anger and desperation in a letter to his mother: 

Dearest Mom, 

It's two fifteen in the morning here, and I just received the 
tragic news that Robert Kennedy is dead. My heart is so heavy 
with grief that it feels as if it will burst into a million tears. 
How many times can our hopes and dreams be shattered by the 
violence that has become so very much a part of this country 
before the nation itself succumbs. 

As usual, they (our so-called leaders) are saying we are not all 
responsible for the senseless acts of a few, but I tell you mother 

Where It's At 


we are all responsible, and we are all guilty, just as much as we 
are all part of this nation. Great God, how can they complain 
about our apathy in one breath, then tell us not to feel respon- 
sible or guilty if that same apathy plays some great part in creat- 
ing an aura where violence becomes a way of life. What are they 
saying? Don't be apathetic except when convenient. Bullshit!!! 

I won't continue writing about all this as it pains me much 
too much to go on. . . . I'll write when I'm better able to control 
this sadness of the heart.^ 

The importance of Gaily, Gaily was suddenly put into perspective, 
but the film was about shattered innocence and the corruption of political 
leaders, and Jewison believed there was some contemporary relevance to 
his lavish period piece. He looked back on Gaily, Gaily as "a sprawling, 
complicated production," yet many of the people involved remembered 
it as a very enjoyable experience.'" "We thought we were making an 
anti-establishment film," Jewison recalls. "It didn't work really, but we 
had the most fun on that film."" 

As location shooting on Gaily, Gaily was beginning in Chicago, The 
Thomas Crown Affair was released. Pauline Kael, the doyenne of crit- 
ics, deemed it "pretty good trash," while the review in Variety called it 
"message-free," "free of social-conscious pretensions," and "refreshingly 
different," claiming that, even from Jewison, the "only message in this 
film is: enjoy it."'^ The Hollywood Reporter called it "a flashy, unde- 
manding technical achievement" that "resists the human element," and 
the Los Angeles Times agreed, dubbing it "a sleek fantasy, an essay on 
the importance of being disarming. "'' Ironically, a film which was un- 
characteristically cynical and one-dimensional for the committed people 
who had made it was just the kind of shallow, escapist fare that audiences 
were looking for. It was one of the major earners of the summer, and 
brought in over $10 million during its first year at the box office. 

It is unclear exactly what Ashby's duties as associate producer on 
Gaily, Gaily were, but in his "overwhelming schedule" he was helping 
with a documentary on the making of Thomas Crown, setting up an op- 
portunity for underprivileged children to visit the set, tinkering with the 
script, being on hand to give Jewison advice and support, and playing a 
blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo role as a drunk.''* Over the ninety-four- 


Being Hal Ashby 

day shoot, the company moved from Chicago to Milwaukee and then 
on to Galena, Illinois, before returning to Los Angeles to shoot interiors 
for two and a half months, working throughout with huge, extremely 
expensive sets and allegedly a daily average of more than six hundred 
costumed extras. "I was on the set a lot, and that was good for me," 
Ashby said." But according to Beau Bridges, who was playing the film's 
protagonist, Ben Harvey, he "approached the associate producer role 
with 'lightness.' It was apparent to me it was not his calling."'* 

While Ashby did not necessarily take to his producer's role, Bridges 
remembers his enthusiasm and how good he was with people. The twen- 
ty-six-year-old son of actor Lloyd Bridges was playing his first lead role, 
and Ashby's support helped him greatly in dealing with the challenges 
he faced. An on-set photo shows the two of them laughing together, the 
baby-faced Bridges in his period costume of flat cap and tweed, while 
Ashby, thirteen years his senior, could not look any more "now" in his 
shades, caftan, and beads (an Oscar gift from Gaily's costume designer, 
Ray Aghayan). 

"Hal was a real renaissance man," says Bridges. "He was a kind of 
mentor to me. He was older, wiser, more sophisticated. At first, maybe 
Uncle Hal. He didn't like to be called a mentor, though, just a buddy." 

After Gaily had moved back to Los Angeles, Bridges regularly dropped by 
the Goldwyn lot at night to see Ashby in the Sinatra bungalow. "Mostly 
we just partied, and we became friends — Hal was my best friend then. I 
spent more time with Hal than anybody else. I still feel his influence on 
my life."!^ 

Bridges's love interest in the film, the kindhearted prostitute Ade- 
line, was played by nineteen-year- old Margot Kidder, a model who had 
been cast in her first film role after Jewison had seen her on the cover 
of a magazine. If Ashby's close friendship with Bridges helped him feel 
young, then his interactions with Kidder invigorated him in a different 
way. For Kidder, Ashby was something between a confidant and a father 
figure, although there was also a flirtation between the two that may 
have developed into something more. ("Lay naked on my lawn today & 
yesterday listening to nature type noises and getting sunburnt nipples," 
Kidder wrote to Ashby two years after Gaily, Gaily.Y^ "Margie," who 
would go on to famously play Lois Lane in Superman (1978), was un- 
abashed in her (mainly platonic) adoration of Ashby and was endeared 

Where It's At 


to his shambling, shaggy demeanor. "When you first met him," she says, 
"he looked like he would never be able to tie his own shoes, and . . . 
you worried if he was gonna cross the street."^' While Ashby may have 
brought out a mothering instinct in Kidder, she also leaned on him for 
a kind of parental support as she struggled with her sudden fame and 
success and the complexities of life in general. "Find myself tuning out, 
shutting off my senses, becoming another mindless nonentity with the 
rest," she wrote to him in 1970. "Stoned a lot. A middle-aged resigna- 
tion to merely functioning instead of being. Don't understand what's 
gone wrong, why I have become half dead. Hmmm. Poor Hal, seems I'm 
always bemoaning my plight on your shoulder. Nice shoulder to moan 
on. It's never as bad as I write anyway."^" 

As a thank-you present for his devotion, hard work, and friendship, 
Jewison gave Ashby a Jaguar, with a big red bow and an affectionate 
note attached. Jewison knew their special partnership was coming to 
an end and faced a difficult transition. "We got so close he knew what 
was in my head and could probably tell you what film he was going to 
see in the next three days before I even started the scene," Jewison says. 
"Therefore, our collaboration was so complete and wonderful. ... It 
was a traumatic experience for me then to work with another editor 
because I had to find someone who kind of got inside me and was on my 
wavelength. "^^ Ralph Winters was chosen to edit Gaily, Gaily after his 
good work on The Thomas Crown Affair, but his presence only under- 
lined how valuable Ashby was to Jewison. "That was a miserable, tough 
picture," Winters remembered. "And I did not hit it off with Norman on 
that picture, but I don't know why."^- (The relationship between the two 
was not helped by Winters's attempt early on to undermine Jewison's au- 
thority by asking Walter Mirisch to remove Mercouri — whom Winters 
thought was miscast — from the film.) 

Ashby and Jewison had commissioned writer Bill Gunn to adapt 
The Landlord, and during the latter stages of shooting Gaily, Gaily, 
they received the first eighty pages of the script. Though it was a first 
draft and only about two-thirds complete, both Ashby and Jewison were 
excited about Gunn's take on the material. In the course of discussing it, 
Jewison offhandedly said, "Why don't you direct Landlord?"^^ 

"You kidding?" Ashby said, unable to believe what he was hearing. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Jewison shook his head. Ashby jumped up from his chair and danced 
frantically around the office. He was finally there. 

The reason Jewison gave for having Ashby take over The Landlord was 
that a schedule conflict prevented him from doing it himself, but in fact 
this was just an excuse to make his friend's dearest wish come true. 
Jewison, however, still had to convince both the Mirisch brothers and 
United Artists vice president David Picker that Ashby could pull it off. 
He came away from negotiations with a $2 million budget — much more 
than a first-time director could ever have hoped for — on the condition 
that Jewison himself produce the film. As Ashby acknowledged, the 
thought in everyone's mind was, "If Ashby falls on his ass, Jewison can 
take over and we'll be covered. "^^ 

Jewison oversaw the film's finances but gave Ashby free rein in cre- 
ative matters. Jewison had initially imagined the film's tone as similar 
to the gentle irony of The Russians Are Coming, but Ashby, with his 
edgy sense of humor, was aiming for scathing satire. In other aspects, 
however, he followed Jewison's lead by getting trusted friends to come 
on board. In Gaily, Gaily, Beau Bridges's portrayal of a country boy in 
his late teens who comes to the big city and learns the hard way how 
the world really works ignited a spark of recognition in Ashby; Bridges 
was the first person to see Gunn's script and excitedly accepted the role 
of Elgar Enders. Ashby also brought in production designer Bob Boyle, 
who had worked on The Russians Are Coming, and Pat Palmer, a tough 
young production manager and associate producer who had made him- 
self invaluable to Jewison on Gaily, Gaily. 

As a director, Ashby faced new responsibilities and pressures and 
began, as he put it, "really learning the difference between being a 
sounding board and using a sounding board. I couldn't just sit around 
the office and rap with Norman about the script, or the casting anymore. 
Now I found myself with the responsibility of making decisions. Final 
decisions. It was nervous time."^*" 

Fortunately, decisions could be changed, such as his plan to stay 
faithful to Kristin Hunter's novel and shoot The Landlord in Philadel- 
phia. Financial constraints forced Ashby to move the action to New 
York instead, where Mayor John V. Lindsay's permit reforms made it 
cheaper and easier to shoot. 

Where It's At 


Ashby felt the pressure of decisionmaking most in the casting pro- 
cess. He knew almost every facet of filmmaking intimately from editing, 
but what worried him was his ability to communicate with actors and 
get the best from them. To ease his nerves, he had Jewison alongside 
him and brought in Beau Bridges to help cast the role of Elgar's girl- 
friend, Lanie. After much deep thought and prolonged consideration, 
Ashby selected a balance of established names (Lee Grant, Pearl Bailey, 
Diana Sands) and promising newcomers (Lou Gossett, Marki Bey, and 
Douglas Grant). The presence of Grant and particularly the formidable 
Bailey, in her first screen role in ten years, was proof of The Landlord's 
merit. Bailey had read the book when it was published five years earlier 
and decided then that she would play the plum role of Marge if it were 
ever made into a film; she took the part despite a simultaneous nightly 
commitment to perform in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. 

Ashby and Bridges were almost inseparable before the summer 
shoot in New York, united by childlike exuberance about the project. 
"The Landlord jump-started me after the huge disappointment of Gaily, 
Gaily," says Bridges. "It was a very exciting and vital time for both of 
us." While Ashby grew increasingly nervous about the impending shoot. 
Bridges became increasingly convinced of his natural abilities as a direc- 
tor. "He was like this huge fan," he remembers. "If you were going to 
tell a story, Hal was your man. He was a great audience, and absorber, 
and that made him a great storyteller. He was in the great tradition of 
storytellers. He knew what people wanted to hear, and it was effortless. 
I'd go over to his house, and he'd always have a bulletin board. He'd have 
newspaper articles, pictures, poems — a collage of what was going on in 
the world. It was a vital, ongoing outspeak of what was going on in his 
head. It was his desire to reach out to friends, coworkers, and ultimately 
his audiences. "^^ 

In the last week of May 1969, Ashby and his cast were in New York 
City for a week of rehearsals. A few days earlier, he had received a letter 
saying that his application to join the Directors Guild of America had 
been successful, and when he looked at his bank account, he noticed that 
his weekly salary had gone from the $700 he got as an editor to $1,750. 
There was no doubt about it: he was a director now. 


The Director 

I always knew that when he got the chance to direct, he would 
prove he was a much finer director than I was. 
— Norman Jewison 

Among the flood of telegrams Ashby received wishing him luck on The 
Landlord was one from a friend telling him: "The world will not be in- 
terested in the storms you encounter, but did you bring in the ship. Give 
it all you've got and that will suffice."^ Ashby braved the storms of the 
first morning, specifically the walking pneumonia brought on by nerves. 
Fortunately, he was working only with Beau Bridges, and, with a lot 
of gasping and pointing, the two friends got through the day together. 
From then it just got easier, and Ashby found not only that he could, in 
fact, communicate well with actors but also that he enjoyed doing so. 

A true hippie, Ashby believed that film was a communal art in which 
the best results were achieved when everybody involved contributed 
ideas, yet he worried that after absorbing the contributions of so many 
others the film might not feel like his own. However, after watching the 
first batch of dailies, he was reassured: "It really blew my mind when I . . . 
saw so much of me coming out on that screen."^ Ashby philosophically 
concluded: "You don't do a film unless you want to make it, so once you 
have a real reason to do it, it will always be you."^ 

Ironically, while these relatively abstract worries had troubled Ashby, 
he seemed unfazed by much more tangible problems. Like Jewison, he 
was a believer in location shooting for realism, which meant filming in 
one of the rougher areas of New York City. 

Ashby filmed in Brooklyn's then largely African American Park 
Slope district, where he employed a significant number of black crew 
members and took on many locals as extras. The company was based 
in Manhattan, and as the trek to Brooklyn was costing $5,000 a day. 


The Director 


Ashby decided to abandon the production's cumbersome trailers and 
instead rent apartments by the day for the cast. When Pearl Bailey and 
Diana Sands suddenly became neighbors, the "film people" were wel- 
comed into the community. One woman found out that Sands loved soul 
food and took time off work to cook in her garden for the cast and crew, 
and Bailey also took to cooking on the set. At the center of everything 
was a now very serene Ashby. "People realized he had put his trust in 
them," says Bridges. "People were invited in for soup, and it was just a 

Safety was, however, still an issue, and though one policeman was 
posted on the set, Ashby's approach to the matter was decidedly un- 
orthodox. "Working on the film was a real life lesson," says Bridges. 
"Instead of hiring a lot of police to keep the peace, Hal just hired the 
toughest guys in the neighborhood." The idea of turning potential en- 
emies into friends paid off, and everybody felt safe and relaxed on set. 
An exception was the day they shot the scene where Beau Bridges's 
character, Elgar Enders, is chased down the street by a group of his ten- 
ants, led by Copee (Lou Gossett). As Bridges ran. Park Slope residents, 
not realizing it was part of the film, hung out their windows screaming, 
"Kill that white motherfucker!"^ The scene was being shot with a long 
lens, so when the action finished, Bridges found himself three blocks 
away from Ashby and D. P. Gordon Willis. As he turned to rejoin the 
crew, he noticed he was slowly being surrounded by the people who had 
been shouting from their brownstones. Suddenly, he felt an arm around 
his shoulder and turned to see Gossett — his pursuer in the film — smil- 
ing at him. The two walked together back to Ashby, Willis, and the 
crew, just about safe. 

The atmosphere that Ashby created on set was relaxed and intimate, 
and he added to the feeling of community by one night taking the whole 
cast to see Robert Downey's incendiary black comedy Putney Swope 
(1969) — even though they had a 6 a.m. start the following day. Lee 
Grant, who was delighted by his unconventional approach, told report- 
ers, "Working with Hal Ashby is the cat's pajamas. He has a genuine 
relationship with all the actors, he establishes real friendships."'' Pearl 
Bailey described Ashby's abilities by saying that he "had The Key to All 
of Our Locks. "^ Journalists who visited the set noted how unobtrusive 
Ashby was, how trusting of others to do their job well; suggestions from 


Being Hal Ashby 

anybody starting with the screenwriter, Bill Gunn, all the way down to 
a lowly grip were welcome. 

"He was so human and of the people," says Bridges. "He was a great 
communicator; he had his hand on the pulse. He did not direct from on 
high. There was no wisdom coming down from the mountaintop — it 
was all fun. He would mine you for gold, he would set you up so you 
could do your best." When Bridges's love scene with Sands wasn't go- 
ing well because the pair were uncomfortable with the dialogue, Ashby 
quietly suggested that they improvise. "You guys know what to say," he 
said. "Let's just say what we'd say."* 

When they were filming the party thrown by Marge (Pearl Bailey) 
for Elgar, Ashby put on a Chambers Brothers record, and everyone in the 
scene danced and hung out. Ashby just let the camera run, his editor's 
instinct telling him not to limit the possible ways the scene could be cut. 
Bob Boyle, a regular Hitchcock collaborator whose Hollywood career 
spanned four decades, watched Ashby's directorial instincts emerge: "He 
just saw the material, he was just one of those filmmakers that had a good 
sense of what he was doing at all times. He was a real film person."' 

Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of film he was shooting and 
his naturally relaxed pace, Ashby fell behind schedule, upsetting the 
Mirisches back in Los Angeles. Walter Mirisch had already complained 
about scenes where the actors' eyes were not clearly visible. Ashby 
wanted to make the ghetto scenes darker, while the scenes of Elgar's 
WASP family mansion, by contrast, would be bleached out. "But this 
is a comedy, and you've just got to see their eyes," Mirisch persisted, 
relenting only when he saw the scenes of the Enderses' home and finally 
understood Ashby's vision.*" Ashby's comic sensibility was, in any case, 
unconventional, and Bridges says that he had "a bizarre, crazy sense 
of humor that people weren't ready for" and that he would "deal with 
problems that way. He would talk about the world, and he would say, 
'Let's burst this fucking bubble! And let's do it with a joke.' Many of his 
films are profoundly tragic, but expressed with humor."*' 

When the company moved from New York to shoot the Enders 
house out in affluent Great Neck, Long Island, local newspapermen com- 
mented on Ashby's hippie attire, which stood out in such conservative 
surroundings: "A shoulder-length grey-blond, Ashby looks like a hippie 
who's made peace with the Establishment. He's wearing a blue shirt, an 

The Director 


(American) Indian medallion, dungaree jacket, grey-green jeans, sandals 
and sunglasses.'"- The description was totally accurate, except for one 
thing — Ashby had in no way made peace with "the Establishment." 
Jewison had always told him that producers and the studios were "the 
enemy." "It's not about money," he would say. "It's all about power and 
creative control."^' Ashby had never forgotten that. 

Jewison had so far been an absent producer on The Landlord, but when 
two weeks of bad weather and transportation problems pushed Ashby even 
further behind schedule, Jewison flew out to New York. Ashby had been 
mostly ignoring communications from the Mirisches, which he felt were 
distracting him from his creative task, but Jewison begged him to act more 

"You gotta calm down here," he said. "You can't be too much of a 

"But you said we had the power! "i'' Ashby replied. He had taken Jew- 
ison's words so seriously that, to him, the conflict was black-and-white: 
creative filmmakers versus mercenary producers. Over his sixteen years as 
a director, he never lost that mind-set. 

Jewison's solution to the problem was to get Pat Palmer, who now 
knew Ashby's working pace, to reschedule the picture and take the 
pressure off Ashby, who honorably admitted, "The main reason for be- 
ing behind was me." After that, things got easier, though Ashby joked 
that he was "not sure if the complaints were fewer, or if I just ignored 
them."^^ He stayed calm throughout all the schedule problems and lost 
his cool only once, when Lee Grant was doing a scene with a Persian cat 
that refused to stay on a shelf as directed. "Hal screamed at the Persian 
cat," says Grant. "I had never seen his temper before. We had to do too 
many takes because of that fucking cat." Eventually, Grant decided to 
do the scene holding the cat instead, although, as she recalls, this did not 
go significantly better: "I picked it up because it was scared — and then 
it peed all over me!"^* 

The film was eventually shot in sixty-six days and came in $400,000 
over the original $2 million budget. One of the final scenes shot was not, 
in fact, in the script; its title was "Hal Marries Joan." 

"I've been blessed with being very naive about certain things at a 
very late age in my life," Ashby once declared, and his marriage to Joan 
Marshall is a perfect example of that dominant naivete. When they 


Being Hal Ashby 

got married on August 21, 1969, they had known each other for only a 
matter of months, but Ashby was ever the romantic ("so much so that I 
don't even believe what's happening sometimes") and threw caution to 
the wind.^* 

Marshall, a cool, classy blonde who looked strikingly similar to 

Lavon, was an actress five years his junior who had been on the verge of 
success for the past decade. Now her fine features were beginning to show 
the strain of a hard life: at fourteen, bulbar polio had paralyzed her vocal 
cords, spine, neck, and one side of her face; by twenty-four, she had left 
two husbands and a career as a Las Vegas showgirl behind and was living 
in Hollywood, an aspiring actress and a single mother of two children. In 
her career, luck never seemed to be with her: her big movie break was Wil- 
liam Castle's Homicidal (1961), in which she played a dual male/female 
role (billed as Jean Arless because it was a unisex name), but the success of 
the film reaped no rewards for her personally; and though she landed the 
role of the mother in the pilot of The Munsters television series in 1964, 
she was replaced by Yvonne De Carlo when the show was picked up. 

When Ashby told Jewison he was going to get married again, his 
response was, "Jesus, Hal, are you sure?" Jewison knew that the only 
thing Ashby could stay in love with was work, but he could do noth- 
ing to stop his friend from going ahead with the wedding. "I was not 
supportive of him marrying her," he recalls,^' but his attempts to make 
Ashby see sense were futile. 

There were, in any case, ample signs that Ashby was getting in over 
his head, as he was joining a family that was fundamentally troubled. Joan 
herself was emotionally fragile and had deep insecurities, her fourteen- 
year-old daughter, Sheri, was a tearaway banished to boarding school, 
and her nineteen-year-old son, Stephen, was incarcerated in a govern- 
ment rehabilitation center in Corona, California, for narcotics abuse. 

It was not the most conventional of weddings. For a start, it took place 
at the F&B Ceco studio, where the ceremony was conducted by a Unitar- 
ian minister as Gordon Willis caught everything on camera. Though 
Joan was dressed in traditional white and clutched a bouquet, Ashby 
looked every inch the hippie in a white dashiki, a garland around his 
neck. On either side of the couple were the best man. Beau Bridges, and 
Jewison, who was giving Joan away, while in the tightly packed crowd 

The Director 


behind them were Diana Sands, Marki Bey, Pablo Ferro, and United 
Artists (UA) boss, David Picker. The gap between Ashby and Joan was 
unusually large, and Ashby looked ill at ease and distracted. He fidgeted 
during the ceremony, his arms awkwardly akimbo and his head tilted 
to one side, as if he were thinking about the framing of the shot rather 
than the motivation of the players in the scene. When he said his vows, 
he sounded old and tired. 

The Unitarian service stressed freedom, singularity, and loose to- 
getherness rather than conventional marital unity and quoted the writer 
and poet Kahlil Gibran, who advised them to 

Give your hearts, but not into each other's 
keeping for only the hand of life can contain 
your hearts; and stand together, yet not too 
near together, for the pillars of the temple 
stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress 
grow not in each other's shadow.^" 

After the ceremony, Ashby, Joan, Beau, and Norman joined together for 
a big hug, Ashby beaming, and Joan shedding a few tears. As they broke 
from their huddle, Ashby walked toward the camera, raised his arms to 
Willis, and called "Cut!" 

Jewison's words of warning must have been ringing in Ashby's ears 
when, just after the wedding, Joan threatened to throw herself out of a 
hotel window. "She tried to take her own life," Jewison recalls. "She was 
a little neurotic, to say the least. For the final days of shooting, Joan 
turned up on set in a wheelchair. 

At the big wrap party Lee Grant organized in honor of Ashby, all 
the cast and crew were excitedly awaiting their director's arrival when 
Grant received a phone call. "She's not going to let me go," Ashby ex- 
plained quietly. 

"Fverything depended on him coming," Grant says, exasperated at 
the memory of Ashby being prevented from attending his own party. 
"God, it pissed me off!"^^ 

As The Landlord went into postproduction, it was a poignant time 
for Ashby and Jewison. With their professional association all but over, 
their personal ties too were soon to be severed. Unable to convince Twen- 


Being Hal Ashby 

tieth Century-Fox to make The Confessions of Nat Turner, Jewison had 
agreed to direct the musical Fiddler on the Roof {1971). It was to be shot 
the following spring and summer in Yugoslavia, and afterward he would 
not return to Hollywood. Jewison had become increasingly disillusioned 
and finally told Ashby, "I've had enough of America. These people are 
killing our heroes. "^^ 

In their correspondence during the postproduction period of The 
Landlord, Ashby and Jewison unreservedly expressed their deep mu- 
tual respect and affection, starting their letters "Dear Heart" or "Dear 
Dearheart," and saying how much they loved and missed each other. 
Though an ocean and five thousand miles would ultimately make them 
grow apart, the purity and strength of their feelings toward each other 
never changed. "I can't think of anyone I've ever been closer to," reflects 
Jewison. "I'd have given my life for him."^'* 

After The Landlord wrapped in New York, Ashby and Joan went on a 
brief honeymoon and then returned to Los Angeles. Having lived in the 
Sinatra bungalow for the past two years, he now had to find a proper 
home for himself and his new bride. By the time he found an apartment, 
they had been joined by Sheri, who had moved to a boarding school in 
nearby Ojai, been caught smoking, then suspended, and run away back 
to Los Angeles, all in the space of a month. Ashby's continued dedica- 
tion to his work, despite his new familial responsibilities, was indicated 
by the fact that the apartment he chose in West Hollywood was only five 
minutes away from the Goldwyn lot. 

Initially, however, Ashby stayed home and began to get to know his 
stepdaughter. She immediately started calling him Daddy and decided 
she adored him, particularly on the day he gave her a Rolling Stones 
concert ticket he'd originally bought for himself. While still at school in 
Ojai, she had written to him, saying: 

Mamma Ashby 
Papa Ashby 
Brother Love 
Baby Ashby - 


The Director 


For the moment, however, the four of them could not be together, 
as "Brother Love" was still in Corona and not due to be released until 
the end of the year at the earliest. Stephen, who had yet to meet Ashby, 
nevertheless wrote to him regularly. Pleased that Ashby was a hippie 
who talked like he did, he started addressing the letters "Dear Dad" 
almost straight away. Once again, Ashby excelled at playing the family 
man as long as he stayed away from the cutting room. He visited Stephen 
in rehab, and the two talked about loneliness and what the future might 
hold for Stephen once he got clean. Ashby suggested he work for Chuck 
Barris, the host and creator of game shows like The Gong Show and The 
Newlywed Game. Barris and Ashby were good friends at the time, and 
a job as a contestant coordinator on The Dating Game was arranged for 
Stephen on his release. 

Returning to the editing room, Ashby discovered that he had shot far 
more footage than he had realized and that his editor. Bill Sawyer, was 
swamped. Ashby brought in another editor, Edward Warschilka, and 
unwisely offered to edit a few sequences himself. By early November, 
Ashby was "spending approximately sixteen to eighteen hours per day, 
seven days per week in an awful little cutting room . . . trying to help put 
the new film together."^* A month later he confessed, "I've been in the 
process of losing my mind, and trying to find it at the same time."^^ 

One of Ashby's frustrations was finding someone to score the film. 
He had been playing Sly and the Family Stone records as a sound track to 
dailies and was heavily into the group's music, but when he approached 
Columbia Records about Stone scoring the film, the company refused, 
telling him: "We're in the music business and you're in the motion pic- 
ture business."^'* Ashby then approached Neil Young, the ex-Buffalo 
Springfield singer and member of the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash 
and Young, whom Ashby and Joan had seen in concert that fall. Young 
and Ashby worked together for six weeks on a number of original songs 
and chose "Cinnamon Girl" as the film's theme. Ashby had cut the film 
to existing Young tracks and was waiting for the songs specially com- 
posed for the The Landlord when UA told him that it would require 50 
percent ownership of the publishing rights to Young's music. As Young 
himself owned only 25 percent — his record company held the other 75 
percent — the deal was suddenly in crisis. Thrown into despair, Ashby sat 
down at his typewriter and poured his heart out to Jewison: 


Being Hal Ashby 

My Beautiful Norman, 

As of this moment, the Neil Young thing is fucked, and I have 
spent still another sleepless night filled with frustration, anger, 
and pain. Now, at 4 a.m., I'm going to attempt to explain what 
it is that has hung up the deal, and what my overall feelings are 
about the whole thing, by putting some words on paper, instead 
of subjecting you, and anyone else who's around, to some kind 
of ranting, maniacal, display of a crushed soul, right here in the 

To be honest, I don't know anything about publishing rights, 
and percentages, and what have you, but I would assume, by 

the way everyone is acting, there's some money in it somewhere, 
and everybody wants a piece, including the artist who creates 
the whole fucking thing in the first place. . . . My heart is too 
much with the artist, and creative person, and it just really isn't 
with the money people. 

I guess I shouldn't say that, as I will, if I can get a number 
and am able to reach Neil, ask him to give away everything to 
help me and our film out, as we have all worked too hard for it 
to end up fucked this way. So I will ask, if I can reach him, but 
it will be killing me inside, and I'm so very tired of that feeling. 
. . . Oh, Norman, if I could just find the words to let you know 
what's going on inside me. It just all hurts so fucking much that 
I can't even stop the tears from coming, while I sit here trying 
to write this damned note. I guess I have spent too many hours 
these past few weeks, sitting alone in this office, trying to cope 
with the pain in my life, and I feel like I'm losing, while it's 
gaining. It's a weird thing to sit alone in the wee hours, and hear 
those moans come out of my aching soul. It hurts! It hurts! Oh, 
Christ, it hurts! 

On top of this, I become so totally aware of the inability to give 
anything, let alone the film, the powers of concentration which I 
have always been able to give before, and an overwhelming guilt 
falls on me, and I become even more incapacitated, until I feel 
as if I will really just blow apart into nothing. I don't want to let 
anyone down. Least of all you, my dear dear loving and loved, 
Norman. I just want to survive, and to keep trying in every way 

The Director 


I can, to make our film as good a one as possible. Please know 
in your heart that I will continue to try, no matter how fucked 
I am, if for no other reason than my love for you, and to try, in 
some small way, to let you (and the world) know how thankful I 
am just to have been lucky enough to even meet you in this trip 
called life, let alone have all of those good and beautiful things 
you give, and do, so freely. ... In short, being loved by you has 
been a very groovy trip for me. I can't even imagine what my life 
would have been without it. 

. . . From this point on, I will never again let myself be put 
in a position where someone, or some thing, can dictate who I 
must use in creating my film, and especially in an area as im- 
portant as music. I know they aren't telling me who I must use, 
but they sure as hell are telling me who I can't use, and it all has 
to do with money. It doesn't have one damn thing to do with 
creativity. So I say fuck U.A., and fuck anybody else who feels 
they have to put the possibility of some remote profit in the way 
of my doing what I feel is the best thing for my film. Too much 
of my life, my heart, my blood, my pain, my tears, have been 
given and are now gone, for me to ever ever again be in this 
awful position. Let me state it very clearly: I will never again be 
fucked by those who find money more important than my life. 
It hurts too much, and I don't even want to find the strength 
to withstand that kind of pain. It would be a false and foolish 
strength, which would in the end, I'm sure, break my heart. 

Please bear with me a moment while I try to explain some- 
thing else that has been nibbling away at me since I was half way 
through the shooting, in the hope it will help explain my strong 
feelings about all of this. It isn't actually related, but it is. . . . 
Sometime, after I was into the shooting, and the initial terror 
and fears had gone their own natural ways just because of the 
fact that I finally knew I could do it, I started to have a love affair 
with my film and it blew my mind. It was a beautiful and groovy 
feeling. Then the other sad realization that they would one day 
take my film away, and start with that bullshit of release prints 
and exhibitors, and just not caring a fuck about our film, except 
in relation to how much money they might be able to make. In 


Being Hal Ashby 

short, they don't care, and it started to eat away, but I fought the 
panic and hurt with the knowledge of knowing where they are, 
and why they were there, and without their money I wouldn't 
have a film to love. It's a reality I have learned to live with, and 
one I will continue to fight, in hopes they one day too will feel 
a little love, and maybe care a little, too. I don't know if I'll ever 
be able to bring any such thing about, but I am prepared to keep 
trying, and hoping. I only mention this because it was a strong 
feeling, but I was able to cope with it as such. It was one of those 
compromises I would make, but I knew it then, somewhere in- 
side, my tolerance level on compromise was a low one, when it 
came to my creative functions in this life, and I began to prepare 
myself for many battles in this area, along with the possibility 
of not being allowed to function as a film maker at all, if my 
dreams and ideals got in the way of their making money. It's a 
price I don't want to pay, but I will if it comes to this.^' 

The Neil Young deal did indeed fall apart, and Ashby had to 
scramble to find his replacement, Al Kooper, a vibrant young Bob Dylan 
acolyte. Kooper had never scored a film before and was extremely grate- 
ful to Ashby for giving him a shot. While Ashby prepared for a May 
release, Kooper composed at the Chateau Marmont hotel, popping over 
to Goldwyn to watch the film for reference. Ashby often went along with 
him, and on one occasion, when the projection wasn't right, he turned 
around and screamed at the projectionist. 

Kooper was shocked, as he had seen firsthand just how laid-back 
Ashby was when he had invited him along to see The Band, who were 
friends of Kooper's, in Long Beach. Ashby drove them there, then left 
his Ferrari parked illegally in the backstage parking area. When they 
returned to the car after the show, Ashby immediately lit a joint. 

"Hal," said Kooper nervously, "there are cops all over the place and 
we're illegally parked here. You think it's a wise decision to walk around 
getting high?" 

Ashby inhaled deeply and replied, "Well, what's the worst that can 
happen? They'll beat the shit out of us and throw us into jail."^° 

Ashby was now completely immersed in The Landlord, and his 
relationship with an increasingly fragile Joan — swept off her feet and 

The Director 


then abandoned for his work — was rapidly deteriorating. From his let- 
ters, it is clear that even Stephen, whose only contact with them was by 
phone and letter, sensed the gravity of their marital problems. By the 
time he came out of rehab in April, Ashby and Joan's relationship was in 
a highly unstable phase during which they split up and got back together 
numerous times. Margot Kidder wrote to him, "Why, why, why, Hal, 
do you let yourself be other people's crutch? Is that cruel? Have you ever 
said no! to anyone in your life? It is a beautiful selfless trait, but one 
that tends to erode the self protective defense of identity and perhaps 
eventually give birth to a gnawing suspicion that one has somehow be- 
trayed oneself. You are a man with five times as much goodness in you 
than most men, and a goodness that we are all taught to strive for, but it 
seems that that very goodness is cheating you of something." " 

As The Landlord's release approached, however, Ashby was un- 
questionably saying no to Joan and a resounding yes to the film. Instead 
of going home to his wife, he often worked through the night, creating 
numerous versions of scenes. "He could rework a scene until it was 5 a.m. 
and everyone was exhausted," Jewison remembers. "He would say, 'Look, 
it works!' I would reply, 'I don't know what you've been smoking, but it 
doesn't work. Maybe it's a little better . . . but it still doesn't work.'"^^ 
Back in the Sinatra bungalow, it was easy for Ashby to immerse himself 
in editing as he'd done so often before; and during the times when he and 
Joan had (temporarily) broken up, he just lived there. Not surprisingly. 
The Landlord was finished, after endless tweaking, only the day before 
its New York release. 

Ashby's devotion to his work paid off — The Landlord was as good a 
film as anyone could have hoped. The editing was tight and inventive, 
Kooper's score had real soul, Gordon Willis's cinematography captured 
the worlds of poverty and affluence with a keen eye, the dialogue was 
smart and incisive, and the performances, particularly from Bridges, 
Grant, and Bailey, were a delight. Critics were positive almost without 
exception, and the film got raves from the Hollywood Reporter, the New 
York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Village Voice; Ashby's skill 
with actors, comic sensibility, cinematic style, and storytelling ability 
were all richly praised. Pauline Kael, who did not review it on its release, 
later identified it as one of the great overlooked films of the 1970s. 


Being Hal Ashby 

The Landlord had a strong personal resonance for Ashby as Elgar 
was strikingly similar to him: lovable, naive, angry, and confused and 
with an overbearing mother. Moreover, the film's opening shot of Ashby 
and Joan getting married mirrors the closing shot of Elgar and his girl- 
friend, Lanie (Marki Bey), being thrust into family life as they bring up 
Elgar's baby by Fanny. Ashby explained that the footage of the wedding 
was not only "a kind of 'dedication' to the newly-weds." The shot of 
Joan leaning "over to give Norman Jewison a kiss (as he gave the bride 
away) ... to me it was a way of saying thanks to Norman (on film) for 
giving me the opportunity to direct the film in the first place. "^^ 

UA, buoyed by the film's stellar reviews, tried to push it to a young, 
hip audience with a poster campaign that showed a finger hovering over 
two doorbells designed to look like breasts. Already playing to a limited 
audience owing to its R rating (for its love scene and bad language), the 
misjudged campaign actually scared away audiences by characterizing 
The Landlord as coarse and crude. "They killed the movie with that 
terrible campaign," said Lee Grant, who earned Best Supporting Actress 
Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her role, and whose sublimely 
funny scene with Pearl Bailey is arguably the film's high point. "They 
realized later what they had done and pulled those ads but by then it 
was too late."^'* 

The Landlord ultimately took about $1.5 million at the box office, 
leaving Ashby disappointed that his film had failed to find its audience. 
Still under contract to UA through the Mirisch Company, but feeling 
bitter and let down, he was thinking about moving on. He was, in any 
case, being moved out of his bungalow and was loath to accept one of 
the cramped cupboards he'd been offered as his new office. 

The summer was an uncertain time for Ashby, and he admitted that 
he was spending "the better part of my life just wondering where I am, 
or even if I am."^^ Jewison, Pat Palmer, and the rest of the gang were off 
making Fiddler on the Roof in Yugoslavia, and Ashby was still unsure 
whether his troubled relationship with Joan would sink or swim. He 
made a rare visit to Ogden to see his family and went on a hiking trip 
with Sheri, to whom he had become quite devoted. If only for her sake, 
he wished they could be a family again. 

That did not, however, stop him from writing to Julie Newmar, 
the feisty actress who had played Catwoman on television and a casual 

The Director 


acquaintance, and asking, "Do you have any idea how much I really do 
think of you? You are beyond a doubt the most super far out groovy lady 
I have ever met, and I, for some strange, weird, unknown reason, have 
always been frightened by the idea of trying to let you know in some way 
just how I do feel about you. . . . Would it bore, distress, or upset you in 
general, if I pursued you in a boy/girl — lady/man way?"'** 

Though The Landlord had underperformed financially, it had im- 
pressed the right people, and scripts were steadily coming in for his con- 
sideration. At the same time, he was developing a project at UA, working 
with the black author Cecil Brown on adapting his edgy novel The Life 
and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger, about an age-gap, black-white, culture- 
clash love affair, a film that Ashby hoped to direct in Denmark, with 
Jewison producing. It was not, however, progressing well, as Brown had 
never written a screenplay before and his late delivery of a first draft, 
along with the controversial nature of the material, made Ashby doubt 
that UA would green-light the project. 

During the summer of 1970, Ashby got a call from Mickey, who 
was now living up in Ojai and still happily married to John Barreto. She 
and her young daughter, Ramona, were coming down to Los Angeles 
with a friend who wanted to get into the movies, and she asked whether 
they could visit Ashby. He spent a whole day showing them around the 
Goldwyn lot, where he took them to a darkened soundstage and slowly 
brought the lights up so that, as Mickey vividly remembered, the tall 
cranes threw "shadows like prehistoric creatures" on the walls. 

When fall came, Ashby left the Goldwyn lot for good. Mr. Jiveass 
was stuck in development, but now Peter Bart, Robert Evans's right-hand 
man at Paramount, had a project for him. He had written to Ashby a 
few months earlier saying how much he loved The Landlord, even joking 
that he should change his name to Godard so that people would give his 
work the attention it deserved. Bart thought he'd found the perfect script 
for Ashby, an oddball little comedy called Harold and Maude. 


Harold and Maude 

I was so loaded on that film, I could hardly walk. ... I was 
lucky I didn't fall in the bay. 
—Hal Ashby 

Initially, Ashby wasn't sure Harold and Maude was the right kind of 
script for him. It seemed to be set in a world of its own, and the fact 
that he had laughed out loud when he read the script made him doubt 
that it would be funny on the screen. The story was, however, right up 
his alley, a wildly offbeat romance between Harold, a death-obsessed 
twenty-year-old who repeatedly fakes his own suicide, and Maude, an 
irrepressible, vivacious woman a week away from her eightieth birthday. 
With its philosophies of nonconformism and free-spiritedness, it embod- 
ied many of Ashby's ideals, and he decided to "jump in and see what I 
could come up with."' 

Harold and Maude had begun as the master's thesis of UCLA stu- 
dent Colin Higgins, who was working as producer Edward Lewis's pool 
boy. The script had so enchanted Lewis's wife, Mildred, that she got her 
husband to give it to Stanley Jaffe at Paramount. Peter Bart's enthusiasm 
had convinced Robert Evans to back the project, and the two conspired 
to get the film funded (on a meager $0.8 million budget) without the 
front office knowing what it was about. "If it doesn't work," Bart told 
Evans, "we'll blame it on Ashby, say he went crazy."^ 

Higgins had sold the script to Paramount with the understanding 
that he would direct the film, but when tests he shot proved unsatisfac- 
tory. Paramount told him he wasn't ready. When Ashby found out about 
this, he went to Evans and said, "Why the hell don't you just let Colin 
make his film? He sees it and he wants to make it."^ Evans replied, "Hal, 
if you don't do it, Colin is still not going to do it; someone else will direct 
it.'"* Ashby committed to the film, but only with Higgins's blessing, and 


Harold and Maude 


made Higgins his coproducer so that he could watch and learn from him 
on set. 

Ashby's other coproducer was Chuck Mulvehill. He and Mulvehill 
had become close friends during postproduction on The Landlord, 
and though Mulvehill, head of production at Mirisch, was eleven years 
Ashby's junior, they were very much on the same wavelength. They hung 
out together, endlessly smoking weed and discussing movies and the 
problems of the world, Ashby talking at length, and with great passion, 
about his three major preoccupations: man's inhumanity to man, the 
need for understanding between people, and the human condition. "We 
shared a lot of philosophies," reflects Mulvehill. "He was a great teacher 
to me; a lot of his philosophies were good."^ 

In September 1970, when Ashby left Goldwyn to begin work on 
Harold and Maude, Mulvehill quit Mirisch to go with him. Mulvehill 
idolized Ashby: United Artists once printed pictures of all the directors 
working under their banner in Variety, and Mulvehill circled Ashby's 
picture and wrote next to it: "My Hero, Fuck The Rest!" Over the course 
of the 1970s, he and Ashby developed a very close relationship, and 
Mulvehill became one of the very few people who would see both the 
personal and professional sides of Ashby, a Sancho Panza to Ashby's Don 
Quixote who tried desperately to stop him from tilting at the studios. 

When Ashby signed on with Paramount, one of their first questions was 
where he wanted his offices. Ashby told them he wanted a house. Now 
back together with Joan, he figured this way he could work and be at 
home with her at the same time. Paramount was bemused but agreed, 
and Ashby moved into a Spanish-style villa on Appian Way, high in the 
Hollywood hills. He was making a strong statement: he wanted to be 
left alone. Not only was the house sufficiently remote from the studio, 
but it was also situated near many of the musicians he loved — Graham 
Nash and Joni Mitchell, John and Michelle Phillips, Frank and Gail 
Zappa, Steppenwolf. On Appian Way, his neighbors were Carole King 
and the Mamas and the Papas' Denny Doherty. 

The house, already furnished, soon became a surreal production 
office where director's chairs sat beside period Italian and French furni- 
ture, huge banks of editing equipment crowded a grand piano, and pro- 
jection screens hung in the same rooms as chandeliers. Upstairs was the 


Being Hal Ashby 

master bedroom and a billiard room complete with antique pool table 
where Ashby and Mulvehill spent many happy hours playing. Ashby 
also imposed his personality on the house by leaving his socks and un- 
derwear on the dining room table, which left one of Ashby's friends, the 
independent filmmaker Robert Downey, understandably puzzled. When 
Downey asked why he did this, Ashby said, "Don't you wish you knew 
where your socks and underwear were without having to look through 
your drawers?"*" 

"It's the best place I've ever lived," Ashby said of his new house, 
seemingly not noticing any conflict between his antimaterialistic hippie 
philosophy and living in such luxurious surroundings/ He honestly told 
people that he didn't care about money, though in one respect it clearly 
mattered greatly to him. Ashby was determined never to be screwed over 
by a studio, lawyer, or ex-wife — or even Joan, whom he was beginning 
to think was relying on him too much financially — but the importance 
of money to him in this instance was purely symbolic. 

Casting Harold and Maude was a challenge to Ashby, but the bizarre 
nature of the material inspired some wild ideas for the unlikely romantic 
leads. For Harold, he was considering Richard Dreyfuss, Bob Balaban, 
and John Savage, then all promising unknowns. Also on his list were 
Bud Cort, who had just appeared in Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud 
(1970); John Rubenstein, for whom Higgins had written the part; and 
up-and-coming British pop star Elton John, whom Ashby had seen live 
and hoped might also do the music. He felt that Maude should ideally 
be European, and he had a long list made up of almost every English 
actress of a certain age (Dames Peggy Ashcroft and Edith Evans, Gladys 
Cooper, Celia Johnson, etc.) as well as Lotte Lenya, Luise Rainer, Pola 
Negri, and some truly left-field ideas such as Fatty Arbuckle's widow, 
Minta Durfree, and even Agatha Christie. Bob Evans and Jewison both 
thought Ruth Gordon, a diminutive seventy-five-year-old American ac- 
tress and writer who had recently won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar 
for Rosemary's Baby (1968), had the vigor and enthusiasm for the part. 
Ashby met her in New York, but when Gordon asked if he was going 
to cast her, he replied, "Well, of course I want you. Everybody always 
wants Ruth Gordon. . . . But I'm flying to Europe tonight to see some 
actresses before I finally decide."* 

Harold and Maude 


In London, he spent his days meeting actresses and his nights party- 
ing with staff from Paramount's UK office, who introduced him to the 
delights of MDA, a prototype version of Ecstasy. (A decade earher, he 
and Mickey had been among the first wave of people to take LSD, when 
it was a little-known legal drug.) While there, he also called Jewison in 
Zagreb, who told him later how delighted he'd been to hear his voice 
"filled with the old enthusiasm and spirit."' 

Although he met with the English actress Vivian Pickles, whom he 
cast as Harold's mother, Ashby did not find his Maude on the London 
trip. When he had described Maude to Edith Evans, she said, "That 
doesn't sound like me, ducky. Why don't you get Ruth Gordon?"'" Back 
in Los Angeles, Ashby told Gordon that she was to be his Maude and 
informed the illustrious Maudes he had not chosen, "After many weeks 
of anxiety, frustration, and self-doubt, I have, at long last, made the 
decision to cast Ruth Gordon." He continued, graciously, that the "other 
ladies of great talent, charm, and warmth" made "this particular deci- 
sion . . . one of the most taxing in my lifetime to date."" 

As Ashby began to feel the pressure of preproduction, he told his sec- 
retary, "I am, as usual, up to my ass in the picture / will cry, fall down, go 
crazy, and otherwise do harm to myself in general, if I have to answer — or 
make — another phone call."*^ He also informed her that he was locking 
himself away until March of the next year. He was having difficulties 
hiring Landlord's Gordon Willis because Willis was in the East Coast 
cinematographers' union and Harold and Maude was to be shot on the 
West Coast. When he tried to hire Willis regardless of the unions, the 
West Coast union threatened wildcat strikes on all Paramount film and 
television productions. "I understood, I might close Paramount up," Ashby 
reflected. "I might be shooting but they wouldn't be shooting anything 

Paramount's perceived lack of support in this and other matters 
prompted Ashby to take extreme action. A month before filming, he 
wrote to Evans withdrawing from the film, saying, "[My] energies and 
creative juices have indeed finally been tapped and it would, I'm afraid, 
have to take its toll on the film, and Harold and Maude deserves better 
than that." He added in a memorable postscript, "I feel I could make 
this film about as funny as the Viet Nam war."''* Whether he was out- 
maneuvering or expressing heartfelt doubt, the resulting meetings with 


Being Hal Ashby 

Evans ended in Ashby getting the budget upped to a more reasonable 
$1.25 million, the location changed from Los Angeles to his own choice, 
San Francisco, and Mulvehill promoted from production manager to 

His cinematographer problem was solved when Haskell Wexler 

recommended John Alonzo, a former documentary cameraman who 
had just begun working in Hollywood and with whom Ashby instantly 
clicked. Wexler himself helped out by videotaping screen tests with Ruth 
Gordon and the six potential Harolds, the tests being shot up at Ashby's 
house on Appian Way. Elton John had dropped out of the running (but 
suggested Cat Stevens, a fellow Brit, for the music), but Bud Cort, John 
Rubenstein, and Bob Balaban had made the final six. Ashby had no 
favorites, and Ruth Gordon noted: "Hal soothed each one, genuinely 
wanted each to succeed. "^^ However, the two main candidates were 
clearly Rubenstein, Higgins's choice, and the baby-faced Cort, who was 
described by Bob Downey as "a bar of Camay with two eyes.""" Cort 
had introduced himself to Ashby by saying "I'm playing this part."'^ 
After the screen test, indeed he was. 

On January 3, 1971, Ashby and his cast and crew decamped to San Ma- 
teo County just outside San Francisco, and for the following two wet, 
overcast months they trudged from one soggy location to another. In the 
buildup to filming, Ashby had spent a lot of time with Bud Cort, helping 
him understand his character; as they were filming out of sequence, it 
wasn't possible for Cort to feel his way into the role, so Ashby had to 
shoot more footage than usual to cover himself. Cort, a former stand-up 
comic, was loose and improvisational, while the focused, ultraprofes- 
sional Gordon viewed the script as gospel. Not surprisingly, their acting 
styles were sometimes in conflict. Ashby, however, guided Cort through 
the difficult moments and gave him the confidence to find the character 
by telling him, "I know you know what you're doing. Just don't ever be 
afraid, because I'll always be there for you."^^ 

"I was an emotional minefield," Cort recalls, "but I wanted the part, 
and he took a chance on me and in so doing became not only a director, 
but a father, a mother, a driving instructor, and a psychiatric nurse. It 
was a difficult part for me, but Hal was so sympathetic, so understand- 
ing. And I think back on it now, I must have driven him crazy, but he 

Harold and Maude 


never ever complained, and he was there for twenty-four hours a day, six 

days a week."" 

Ashby was relieved to be in Northern California, away from the Para- 
mount suits; however, in the first few days of the shoot Ashby's production 
manager was woken at 1 a.m. with a complaint from Paramount's head 

of production, Jack Ballard. Ashby told Mulvehill to inform Paramount: 
"If [he] telephones this goddamn set one more time I'm not going to 
shoot, and if they want to have another director come up and shoot it, 

Filming Harold and Maude presented many challenges, and Ashby 
was well served by a carefully selected crew, many of them hippies, and 
all of them passionate about film. Arguably, the most significant new 
member of Ashby's inner circle was production designer Michael Haller, 
a soft-spoken, highly inventive man who worked closely with Ashby on 
most of his subsequent films. Haller, who had recently worked on George 
Lucas's THX-1138 (1971), excelled in his work on Harold and Maude, 
memorably creating Harold's Jaguar minihearse, Harold's uncle's salut- 
ing false arm, and Maude's unconventional railway-car home. 

Harold's house, however, required much less effort, as the location 
Ashby and Haller had found, Rosecourt Mansion, was a lavishly fur- 
nished seventeen-room house with a seven-and-a-half- acre garden. With 
a Rembrandt hanging in the hall, the house was then on the market for 
$0.5 million unfurnished or $7 million furnished. Two weeks into film- 
ing, Ashby rewarded his cast and crew with a party at Rosecourt. On 
the night of the party, Jeff Wexler — Haskell's son, a production assistant 
who ran errands like buying Ashby's Sherman cigarettes — noticed that 
his boss was nowhere to be seen. Wexler eventually found him alone in 
one of the bedrooms, smoking a joint. "I want to have a party," Ashby 
said, "but I don't know if I want to be there. 

The atmosphere on the shoot was relaxed and cooperative, with Ashby 
setting the laid-back tone. His greying blond hair had grown long and 
wispy, and his beard stretched almost a foot below his chin; even in his 
long leather jacket and boots he resembled a serene but rather befuddled 
yogi. However, the unpredictable weather caused major schedule prob- 
lems, so much so that on one occasion the usually unflappable Ashby 
lost his cool when, as Gordon recorded in her autobiography, after get- 


Being Hal Ashby 

ting the wrong directions, "cars, campers, commissary, Cinemobile with 
the equipment kept passing each other and asking the gas station for 
directions. "^^ 

A month in, the production was almost a week behind schedule, and 
Paramount sent Peter Bart to San Francisco. Bart, who was convinced 

that Ashby was losing days because he was getting high, came to the 
set, handed Ashby a one-way ticket back to Los Angeles, and told him 
that if he kept on losing time he was expected to use it. (By his own 
account, Ashby was getting high, though it seemingly did not have a 
negative impact on his directorial abilities.) Unimpressed by Bart's stunt, 
Ashby stayed focused on directing the film. He had taken to playing Cat 
Stevens songs over the dailies and three weeks into shooting made a deal 
with the singer to use his music in the film. 

In mid-February, despite further problems involving nearby earth- 
quakes and an accident in which William Lucking, playing a motorcycle 
cop, crashed through a roadside barrier and broke his leg, Bart sent a 
telegram to Ashby telling him he'd seen the rushes and was "elated by film. 
Quality of acting is splendid. Also wish to congratulate you on bringing 
off real turnaround in terms of schedule. . . . Keep up the good work."^^ 

One of the joys of the shoot for Ashby was his interaction with the actors. 
Cyril Cusack, playing Maude's friend Glaucus, made a strong impres- 
sion on him. (Ashby was very distraught that he had to cut out much of 
Cusack's part but wrote to the Irish actor, specially praising his "singu- 
lar and most special performance," and signing off, "Your most ardent 
fan.")^"* Ashby became particularly endeared to him when they were re- 
hearsing a scene in which Glaucus makes an ice sculpture. As Cusack was 
hacking away at his ice block with a five-pronged ice pick, Ashby noticed 
that one of the prongs had gone into Cusack's woollen mittens. Cusack 
registered no emotion and kept on running the scene with Gordon and 
Cort as Ashby thought to himself: "Wow, that's wild: thank God it just 
went in the glove." 

At the end of the scene, Cusack quietly said, "I believe I've stabbed 
myself," and took off his mitten to reveal that the ice pick had gone right 
through to the bone. 

"Why didn't you stop right away?" Ashby asked. "That was only a 

Harold and Maude 


"Oh?" responded Cusack. "Was that only a rehearsal?"-'' 
One actor Ashby wished was maybe a little less into his role was 
Bud Cort, who told him, "Hal, when we do these suicides, I want them 
to be so real, that the crew thinks I'm actually killing myself."^* While 
filming the scene in which Harold pretends to have drowned, Cort lay 
face down in the heavily chlorinated water of the Rosecourt swimming 
pool for take after take until he could no longer keep his eyes open, and 
for Harold's faked hanging he nearly strangled himself by staying in the 
noose too long. Cort's method actor's mind-set even extended to the 
scene of Harold and Maude in bed together. "I'm really looking forward 
to getting it on with her," Cort told New York Times reporter Leticia 
Kent.^^ He said to his director, "It's only right that she and I actually 
have sex." "Please don't tell me this!" exclaimed Ashby.^** 

On March 13, the last day of filming, a camera jam prevented Ashby 
from getting his planned slow-motion shot of Harold's car going off the 
cliff, but he philosophically accepted the situation. The day before, he 
had been knocked out in a fierce windstorm and then groggily directed 
Ruth Gordon as she played the piano in Maude's railway compartment. 
Every time a take finished and Gordon stopped singing, he had rushed 
outside to throw up. Now he was happy to just cut his losses and go 

Ashby returned to Los Angeles relieved to be only marginally over bud- 
get and behind schedule but exhausted and depressed. Though he rarely 
let any negativity he was feeling show on set, the pressure of filming had 
taken its toll on him. He retreated to Appian Way, where, in a downcast, 
paranoid state — probably exacerbated by his habitual pot smoking — he 
wrote to Jewison, "I have really been on the longest down bummer of 
my life for the past month. I guess it has a lot to do with the film. I really 
felt as if I was running out of time during the last two weeks of shooting, 
but I'm not sure now if it was not having enough time to get all my ideas 
on film, or if I was just running out of life time in general. At any rate, 
it has deteriorated to the point where I'm convinced the only reason 
anybody is around me is to see what they can get from me, or some such 
thing. I really am confused, and don't know. God knows, there isn't 
much to get, so why should they even bother." 

"I really have missed you for such a long, long time now," he contin- 


Being Hal Ashby 

ued. "I sometimes becomes so turned around I wonder if we are still in 
the same world anymore."^' 

Though it is unclear when they filed for divorce, Ashby and Joan received 
a final judgment of dissolution of marriage on May 26, 1971. In their 

volatile relationship, the divorce proceedings seem not to have altered 
their pattern of breaking up and getting back together, and even after 
their divorce was finalized, their status remained unpredictable. Ashby 
would have brief relationships with other women, only to return to Joan. 
Once, after a fight, she stormed out of the house, and as she was going 
back along Appian Way, drove her Volkswagen off the road and forty or 
fifty feet down a steep incline, seemingly on purpose. Joan was unhurt, 
but Ashby was shaken and had to call Mulvehill, who lived only a few 
minutes away in Laurel Canyon, to solicit help. Ashby and Joan were 
reconciled, but their issues were only temporarily resolved. 

After a brief period spent recovering from the strains of the shoot — 
reading, relaxing, and expanding his mind through the hallucinogenic 
powers of mescaline — Ashby returned to work on Harold and Maude 
and began setting up his next picture. He had set his heart on directing 
a screenplay by Joseph Gillette, Owen Butler, and had already pitched it 
to Robert Evans and interested Beau Bridges in the lead role. The project 
was an edgy satire in which the titular (anti)hero systematically kills a 
number of high-profile figures, from right-wing extremists and military 
men with political aspirations to Black Panthers and student leaders, 
and gets away with it after being investigated by a cop who condones his 
actions. Ashby, however, did not hold out great hopes that Paramount 
would fund the film and told Jewison, "The money people seem to be 
scared as hell of it — what with all that's going on in the good old US of 
A these days."^" With its subversive humor and dubious moral stance, 
it was the kind of material that Ashby could have pulled off, but for 
the studios it was more trouble than it was worth. Accordingly, Ashby 
planned to make the film through a company he and Mulvehill had just 
set up. Dumb Fuck Films. Its brief was to cut out the middleman and 
allow the director to retain creative control; it was referred to always as 
"D.F. Films." 

On Harold and Maude, Ashby engaged the editing team from The 

Landlord, Bill Sawyer and Edward Warschilka, and again found that he 
couldn't stay away from the cutting room. He desperately wanted to be 

Harold and Maude 


rid of the responsibility but couldn't trust anybody completely with his 
film. All the editing was now being done at his house, and there was the 
added attraction of being able to cut on his new toy, a tabletop editor. 
After Sawyer and Warschilka had put together a first cut, Ashby took 
over the bulk of the work from them. 

While shooting Harold and Maude, Ashby had been listening to 
Cat Stevens so frequently that the film became infused with the feel of 
Stevens's music. Back in Los Angeles, Ashby, Sawyer, and Warschilka 
had cut the film to the songs they thought worked best, but at the end of 
July, Ashby received a call saying that Stevens wanted to quit the film: 
the original plan for him to write music for the film was impossible ow- 
ing to his busy schedule. Ashby flew to Paris to meet with Stevens to try 
and change his mind, and in the end he was able to convince him to let 
them use the songs they had cut in already. 

A relieved Ashby returned to Los Angeles to find a telegram from Pe- 
ter Bart and a bottle of champagne. Bart had seen the footage that Ashby 
and his editors had already finished and called it "the first half of the best 
movie I ever saw."^^ Paramount was now so enthusiastic that Harold and 
Maude was allotted a Christmas release so it would qualify for Oscar 

In the months leading up to its previews, Ashby infuriated Evans 
and Bart by locking himself in on Appian Way and not answering phone 
calls. (He would become infamous among both friends and business 
colleagues for almost never returning calls.) When Paramount requested 
to see the film before Ashby thought it was ready, he failed to attend the 
screening, much to Evans's and Bart's chagrin. And when Ashby was 
invited to show the film at Evans's house and discuss it afterward, he 
went into such detail over planned changes that Evans was compelled to 
say that he felt the film was working pretty well and maybe only a few 
tweaks were necessary. Love Story (1970) actress Ali MacGraw, then 
Mrs. Robert Evans, loved the film but strongly felt that the love scene 
between Harold and Maude should be cut out. When Ashby was told 
the scene would have to go, he objected, saying, "That's sort of what 
the whole movie is about, a boy falling in love with an old woman; 
the sexual aspect doesn't have to be distasteful."^^ The scene was far 
from explicit and simply featured Harold comforting Maude, then the 
two kissing and falling out of shot into the bed. Ashby wanted to show 
the beauty of young and old flesh together, something that he knew the 


Being Hal Ashby 

younger generation, the hippies, the heads, the open-minded masses, 
would dig, but Evans said it would repulse most audiences, so it had to 
go. Ashby got his way in the end by having Pablo Ferro put the offending 
footage into the film's trailer, much to Evans's fury and disgust. 

In mid-November, Harold and Maude was previewed in Palo Alto, Palm 
Springs, and UCLA, all places with large numbers of students, a primary 
target audience. Ashby, Colin Higgins, and Peter Bart nervously turned 
up at the first screening in Palo Alto, unsure what the audience reaction 
would be. "At the end, more than half the audience got to its feet and 
applauded," Bart says. "I'd never seen that at a preview. I literally shook 
with excitement, then hugged Hal, who was in shock. The kids in the 
audience followed us outside and wanted to talk about the movie. They 
wouldn't quit."^^ 

In between screenings, Ashby tinkered with the film, making changes 

depending on how the audience had reacted. On November 14, two days 
after the Palo Alto screening, Ashby's brother Hetz died, aged only sixty. 
Hetz's widow, June, wanted Ashby to come back to Ogden for the funeral, 
but with the next preview only a few days away, he said that he was un- 
able to spare the time. (The last funeral he had attended in Ogden was 
his father's, and no doubt he did not want to dredge up memories of that 
dark time.) Hetz had not been a part of his life since he was a kid, and it 
is difficult to know what impact his death had on Ashby. Still on a high 
from the first screening, and consumed by a frantic need to perfect the film 
before the next preview, Ashby again threw himself into his work. 

The response at the next two previews was equally enthusiastic (he 
got letters praising the film, calling it "perfect"), and at the Director's 
Guild screening party a few weeks later the grin on Robert Evans's face 
was one of a man who'd just found a gold mine. Suddenly, it looked like 
Ashby had a hit on his hands and from now on he, as a director and as the 
head of D.F. Films, would have the power to make the films he wanted to. 
"We felt it was going to be the best film of the year, it was going to knock 
'em dead," Mulvehill recalls. "We were gonna have control over what we 
were gonna do."^"* The dumb fucks were not looking so dumb anymore. 

"I suppose you think that's very funny, Harold," says Vivian Pickles in 
the opening line of Harold and Maude. Well, the critics certainly didn't. 

Harold and Maude 


Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "stylish, 
nutty, enjoyable and oddly provocative," Judith Crist (who had hated 
The Landlord) deemed it "an enchanting excursion into the joy of living 
. . . a lovely modern fairy tale," and Pauline Kael said it was "made 
with considerable wit and skill" — but every other film reviewer of note 
seemed to take great joy in brutally mauling the film.^' 

"The first review was Murf. in Variety" remembers Chuck Mulve- 
hill, "and said 'Harold and Maude is as funny as a burning orphanage.' 
And that was a good one. Time said, 'We're going to do you a favor, 
we'll not review it.'"^* The all-important New York Times, Hollywood 
Reporter, and New York Daily News reviews were scathing indictments 
of the film's subject matter and message, though they praised Ashby's 
direction. Even Playboy was outraged, calling it "a miscalculated insult 
to old and young, male and female, rich and poor, none of whom is 
likely to identify with such cynically contrived pap."^^ 

Paramount's decision to release Harold and Maude just three days 
before Christmas, when conservative values were at the fore and the cin- 
emas were showing the year's biggest releases, was a monumental error 
in judgment that compounded the film's already considerable problems. 
Its promotion was also significantly mishandled: ignoring the glowing 
responses from the youth and student markets. Paramount attempted 
to attract a broader audience by representing it as a heartwarming film 
about the friendship between a young man and an old woman. 

"It opened and closed in a week," says Mulvehill. "It was gone — 
bingo! It was so weird! "^* Ashby, Mulvehill, and Higgins were all sore 
about Paramount's handling of the promotion, and Ashby particularly 
felt that the studio should have taken a much more provocative approach. 
"Jesus, I don't want to spend a year of my life making that film and 
not have anybody see it," he complained at an American Film Institute 
seminar in early January 1972.^^ By that time the film had already died 
at the box office. 

However, Ashby had heard that in Baltimore, where a cinema owner 
opted not to use Paramount's publicity materials, Harold and Maude 
was doing roaring business. Those who saw it seemingly loved it — the 
problem was that the film had disappeared from most cinemas after only 
one week, killing any chance of a word-of-mouth success. "I'm proud 
of what is up there on the screen," Ashby told an interviewer in 1972, 


Being Hal Ashby 

"and I think later the film will find an audience or at least the attention 

it deserves.'""' 

Fittingly for a film so steeped in death, Harold and Maude had a 
Lazarus-like resurrection. It was booked by student film societies and 
repertory cinemas and gradually became a cult phenomenon, a movie 
that defined a generation and would resonate with generations to come. 
Over the course of the 1970s, the film played in some repertory cinemas 
for years at a time and was seen hundreds of times by its most ardent 
fans, gaining such an unlikely popularity that Paramount re-released 
it in 1974 and again in 1978. Over the years, it was the film that most 
inspired people to write to Ashby, often telling him how it had helped 
them through tough times with its message that one should live life to 
the fullest. 



[We talk about him] like we're writing a recommendation for 

a college scholarship. 

— Jack Nicholson (on Ashby) 

In the immediate aftermath of Harold and Maude's release, Ashby 
and Mulvehill's prospects were decidedly gloomy. "We were devastated, 
couldn't believe it," says Mulvehill, "and the scripts and phone calls that 
had been coming in just stopped. It was as though somebody had taken 
an ax to the phone lines. It was a really rude awakening. It was a big, 
big shock to Hal."^ 

But just a few months after the apparent catastrophe of Harold and 
Maude, things began looking rosier for Ashby, both personally and 
professionally. During the editing of Harold and Maude, Ashby had 
made Joan part of his staff at D.F. Films, and they had subsequently 
been reconciled romantically. They were now happily living in the house 
on Appian Way, with Sheri and their two cats, Booker T. and Priscilla, 
and hoping to find a film to make together. Though they were not being 
flooded with offers, those they did receive were interesting. After all, 
while Harold and Maude had alienated the majority of critics and cin- 
emagoers, it had also sent out a message that Ashby was an accomplished 
filmmaker with a light touch willing to take risks and push boundaries. 

In April, Ashby was approached by Michael Butler, the producer of 
the hit hippie musical Hair, who had seen Harold and Maude and imme- 
diately identified Ashby as the perfect director to bring his show to the 
screen. He invited Ashby to a performance, hoping to entice him to sign 
on to direct a film version in the next year or so. At the same time, Ashby 
was in talks with Michael Douglas about adapting Ken Kesey's seminal 
novel. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, which Ashby would direct, 
Kesey would write, and Douglas would produce along with Mulvehill. 



Being Hal Ashby 

Kesey had yet to write the screenplay, so Ashby signed to direct a film at 
MGM while Kesey wrote. 

Three Cornered Circle — or No Way Out, as it was originally ti- 
tled — was a modern take on James M. Cain's classic novel The Postman 
Always Rings Twice, which in 1946 director Tay Garnett had made into 
one of the great noir thrillers, starring Lana Turner and James Garfield. 
Ashby saw potential in the script and immediately started pursuing Jack 
Nicholson to play the lead. Ashby and Nicholson had met about six 
months earlier at Bob Evans's house, where Nicholson had declared 
himself a fan of Ashby's work. Ashby recognized Nicholson not only as 
a brilliant actor and rising star but also as a savvy, all-around filmmaker 
who also wrote and directed and regarded every film he did as part of a 
carefully assembled body of work. Nicholson deliberated for six weeks 
while Ashby wooed him and was finally convinced more by the quality 
of the director than by the project itself. Ashby was thrilled and saw an 
opportunity to cast Michelle Phillips, the ex-Mamas and Papas singer 
and Nicholson's then girlfriend, in the Lana Turner role. Not only would 
it play on Nicholson and Phillips's real-life relationship, but it also keyed 
into Ashby's passion for rock and roll and his interest in blurring the 
boundaries between music and film. Ashby did screen tests with Nichol- 
son and Phillips (shot by young director of photography Andrew Davis, 
later a highly successful director himself), but MGM, flailing financially 
at the time, balked at Ashby's casting idea. The studio saw Phillips as an 
obscure nonactress and suggested someone like Raquel Welch instead. 
Ashby told the MGM execs they were out of touch, Michelle Phillips was 
a big star, and how come they were telling him who he could or couldn't 
cast. "I guess they'd say their film; I say my film," Ashby reflected.- As 
the July start date neared, Ashby and MGM were still tangling over the 
casting decision; finally, Ashby backed out, followed by Nicholson, and 
the film was put into turnaround. 

When Harold and Maude was being screened for friends and luminaries 
in December 1971, Ashby had twice invited Stephen Marshall to see it. 
Despite Stephen's regular attempts to contact Ashby, their relationship 
had been almost nonexistent owing to Ashby's work schedule and his 
feeling that — at least when he and Joan weren't together — Stephen was 
not his responsibility. Still, Ashby had set up Stephen with a job working 



for Chuck Barris, who remembers being "very glad to help with his son. 
He did a great job, he was a great kid."' Stephen made friends at his job, 
dreamed of making films like Ashby, and tried to stay clean, though he 
still took mescaline and acid. Eventually, he left his job with Barris, and 
on July 21, 1972, only two years after his release from rehab, he died of 
an overdose, aged just twenty-two. 

Though Ashby paid for the funeral and burial, Stephen's death ap- 
peared to mark the end of any romantic association between Ashby and 
Joan. Guilt ridden over his failure as a father figure to Stephen, Ashby 
finally realized that he was simply not cut out for the responsibilities 
of family life. Whether he was conscious of it or not, Stephen's death 
was linked for him with his father's suicide: not only had he abandoned 
Stephen as his father had abandoned him, but Stephen's death reinforced 
the idea that being part of a family unavoidably lead to traumatic loss. 
After five failed attempts, he resolved never to marry again. 

Talking about his frustration over the way Harold and Maude was 
handled, Ashby once said: "When you've devoted a year-and-a-half to 
something, you watch and fret over it as you would over a child.'"* He 
loved his films like children, children he would devote himself to com- 
pletely for eighteen months and then set free into the world. His child- 
hood — in which his parents' divorce was followed by a period of moving 
around with his mother, his father's suicide. Jack leaving for war, and 
then he himself being sent to the naval academy — had created a staccato 
rhythm in his life that he could not change. His romantic passions were 
fervent and genuine, but they burned so strongly they couldn't last. After 
Joan, his relationships generally lasted only as long as his films did, and 
because Ashby unconsciously compartmentalized his life, the start and 
finish of a film would often coincide with the start and finish of a ro- 
mance. Mulvehill, whom Ashby relied on to soften the blow for girls he 
was about to break up with, observed the pattern that developed: "One 
relationship usually ended because another was building. He wanted 
close relationships, but when they got close he didn't want them. It was 
all about responsibility, and he was all about work.'" 

Ashby had sworn off marriage but hadn't lost any of his romanti- 
cism. He loved women, loved having them around, and whenever one 
moved out of the house on Appian Way, it was often only days before 
another moved in. Deanna Benatovich, the first of the women to live 


Being Hal Ashby 

with him after Joan, arrived in Los Angeles with nowhere to stay and 
ended up next door to Ashby on Appian Way, in the house where Denny 
Doherty lived. As the room she was staying in was actually Doherty's, 
he found her a linen delivery van. 

"I now had a truck and was busy making it a home so I could live in 
it," Benatovich remembers. "I was a little hippy with long hair. I was in 
my truck outside making drapes . . . when the mysterious neighbor who 
I had only heard about came out near sunset and asked me if I would 
like to get high. We did and just hit it off and were up all night talking. 
We had so much in common and were on the same wavelength I felt an 
immediate empathy with him. At dawn I went back to my room as I had 
a rule then to never sleep with someone I just met. The next night Hal 
came out again to invite me in. I was confused because Hal was not that 
attractive but quickly that didn't matter as I got to know him better. 
We ended up making love in the window box with the lights of L.A. 
before us. I wish I could remember exactly what he said now, but it was 
something like T want you to move in. I want to have you here. I want 
us to be together.' He was so cute, he showed me some empty drawers 
I could use and made room in his armoire for my clothes. That was it. I 
was in love. He was so cool and he loved me too."* 

Benatovich moved in with Ashby only hours later and quickly be- 
came a part of his life, reading scripts and going to screenings with him, 
even playing pool with him and Mulvehill. Benatovich loved movies 
almost as much as Ashby but had not seen Harold and Maude. One day, 
Ashby dropped her off at a cinema where it was showing. "I was blown 
away," says Benatovich. "It was such a great movie, I was floored that I 
was living with this great mind. I had found a soul mate. We could read 
each other's minds. 

"I read so many scripts and so much of it is useless," Ashby had told 
an interviewer earlier that year. "If you don't like something from the 
beginning you're hardly going to like it much better six months later."** 
Strangely, however. The Last Detail — which had been sent to Ashby at 
D.F. in the fall of 1971 and the reader's report had dismissed as "lengthy 
and unimaginative" — suddenly became very appealing.' 

Coincidentally, during preproduction on Three Cornered Circle, 
Nicholson had told Ashby about The Last Detail, his upcoming film 



at Columbia. Ashby would have been keen to direct it, but the winter 
shooting date clashed with postproduction on Three Cornered Circle. 
But when both Ashby and Nicholson pulled out of their deals at MGM, 
Nicholson mentioned The Last Detail again and suggested, "Why don't 
we try and move you over and get you to do this?" "That would be great," 
said Ashby.^" 

The Last Detail was a gritty, obscenity-strewn drama about two 
navy lifers, "Badass" Buddusky and "Mule" Mulhall, transporting a na- 
ive young prisoner, Larry Meadows, to the brig after he commits a petty 
theft. "I loved the script and I had got to know Jack well enough so that 
we both knew we wanted to work together," Ashby said later. "When 
the opportunity to direct The Last Detail came up, I jumped at it. The 
script is full of a very honest kind of humor about developing human 
relations and a certain wry insight into people just doing their jobs."^^ 
Producer Gerry Ayres had bought the rights to Darryl Ponicsan's novel 
back in 1969 but struggled to get it made because of Columbia's fears 
about the bad language in the script by Robert Towne, then Hollywood's 
most sought-after script doctor. Towne, however, refused to tone down 
his script, and the project remained in limbo until the bankable Nichol- 
son got involved. 

Ayres backed Nicholson's recommendation to bring Ashby on 
board. "He's intelligent, sensitive, capable," said Ayres of Ashby. "How 
many Hollywood directors do you know who you can say those things 
about? "^^ Keen to accurately depict the navy, Ashby and Ayres read navy 
publications and interviewed current and ex-servicemen, who helped 
them correct minor inaccuracies in the script, which they deemed oth- 
erwise extremely realistic. Ayres hoped to gain the navy's approval, but 
when he sent the screenplay to its Information Office, the response he 
got was that the film would "have no plot left by the time you altered 
your script sufficiently to get our cooperation."^^ 

The film's start and end locations were the Norfolk, Virginia, naval 
base and the brig at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and without navy co- 
operation Ashby would have nowhere to shoot these scenes. Fortunately, 
the Canadian Navy was willing to help. In mid-August, Ashby and his 
casting director, Lynn Stalmaster, traveled to Toronto to look at a naval 
base they were being offered and meet with actors. The base suited their 
needs perfectly, and Ashby met a promising young actress (and Harold 


Being Hal Ashby 

and Maude fan), Carol Kane, whom he cast in a small role. Overall, 
the trip was a resounding success — except that when Stalmaster arrived 
back in Los Angeles, Ashby was not with him. 

"Hal, you've got to dress to get through Immigration," Jewison had 
always told him when they traveled together.^'* Jewison would smarten up 
when he flew, and refused to walk beside Ashby with his beads, sandals, 
long beard, and the distinct smell of pot lingering on him. But at Toronto 
International Airport, ignoring Jewison's advice finally caught up with 
Ashby. He was carrying only a small amount of marijuana, but his claim 
that it was just "herbs" failed to save him from being arrested. Mulvehill 
got Columbia's lawyers to post his bail and flew out to Toronto himself 
to bring him home. Ashby, with Jewison's words no doubt ringing in his 
ears, complained bitterly about his treatment, especially when, on his 
arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, he was hauled off the plane 
and searched yet again. 

Columbia was understandably annoyed by the incident but gave Ash- 
by a reprieve after Nicholson came out strongly in support of him. Ashby, 
however, realized that he needed to make some changes if he wanted the 
studios to consider him employable. While he would still be a vegetarian, 
write letters supporting environmental bills, promote peace and love, and 
smoke dope, he resolved to distance himself from his hippie image. A few 
years before, when traveling with black filmmaker Carlton Moss to give 
a guest lecture at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, Ashby had to 
change flights in Dallas; the Texan airport officials took one look at him 
and refused to let him on the plane. He knew he couldn't afford to let 
anything like that happen again. 

Six months on, a Columbia attorney represented him in court; the 
offense was pardoned and, two years later, struck from the record. But 
just days after the incident, Ashby did something much more significant. 
"I remember the night he woke me up in the middle of the night and he 
had shaved his beard," says Benatovich. "It was so strange to see his face 
without it."'' The beard grew back, but from then on, he kept it short. 

With Nicholson set to play Buddusky, casting of The Last Detail 
focused mainly on the parts of Mule and Meadows. Robert Towne and 
Nicholson were old friends (Towne wrote the script with Nicholson in 
mind), and both were also close with Rupert Crosse, an accomplished 
African American actor who had received an Oscar nomination for Best 



Supporting Actor for his role in the Steve McQueen vehicle The Reivers 
(1969). Nicholson was excited about sharing the screen with Crosse, 
whom he felt would be perfect as Mule. 

That left Meadows. Bud Cort came to Appian Way and begged for 
the part, but Ashby knew he wasn't right. In the script. Meadows was 
small, the kind of guy who gets trampled on by everybody, but Ashby 
thought this was a hackneyed take on the character. When Stalmaster 
gave Ashby a final selection of actors, the two that stood out were Randy 
Quaid, who had appeared in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show 
(1971), and John Travolta, an actor who had so far done only commer- 
cials. "Hal had all these pictures of boys pinned up on a board," says 
Benatovich. "He asked me who I thought would be good and I looked at 
all these attractive types. Then I saw Randy and I knew it was him, and 
Hal said he thought so too. Randy was like a big penguin; everybody 
wanted to mother him."^* Randy Quaid had just the offbeat, vulnerable 
quality that Ashby wanted, and at an imposing six foot two he looked 
suitably awkward next to Nicholson, one of the shortest leading men in 
Hollywood. Ashby couldn't guarantee that Quaid was the best actor out 
of the bunch but trusted his instincts that he was the right choice. 

The Last Detail was a clear step up for Ashby: he had his biggest 
budget ($2.6 million) and salary ($95,000) yet and was working with 
Jack Nicholson. He enthusiastically entered preproduction, spending ten 
days on Catalina Island finessing the script with Towne and working 
with Nicholson on his part. 

A shadow was cast over the proceedings, however, when Rupert 
Crosse went missing after discovering he had terminal cancer. In an 
almost unprecedented move, Ashby put production back a week to give 
Crosse time to come to terms with the news and decide if he was well 
enough to be in the film. To everybody's sadness, Crosse had to decline 
and, with only a matter of days left till production, Ashby and Stalmas- 
ter scrambled to find his replacement. 

"The last phone calls I got from Rupert were from Jamaica, his 
home," Ashby said. "He'd rave, 'The water here is so good!' He would 
laugh and made me laugh. What was I to do, say, 'Rupert, you're dying, 
don't laugh'? I had to laugh with him."^^ In March 1973, just a month 
after production on The Last Detail finished, Crosse passed away. 


The Last Detail 

He had a sense of truth, and what was a real moment. He 
didn't like to watch moments that were not real, and he was 
willing to let — to a fault sometimes — things go wherever he 
felt they should as long as they stayed real. 
— Robert Towne (on Hal Ashby) 

Because Ashby and his cast and crew were shooting in Toronto at the 
time, they voted by absentee ballot in the U.S. presidential election on 
November 7, 1972. Richard Nixon's image had appeared on a television 
screen in The Landlord and in a deified picture on the office wall of 
Harold's Uncle Victor, in both cases embodying for Ashby all that was 
wrong with the country. Though he was rarely vocal about it, Ashby 
was highly politicized and in the past two years had written numerous 
letters to Washington to lobby for several environmental acts, help Hopi 
Indians, stop the clear-cutting of forests, and push for the abolition of 
the death penalty and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. He 
cast his vote for Nixon's opponent. Democratic senator George McGov- 
ern, who was campaigning as the "peace" candidate. (He also voted 
for the proposed environmental measures and the relaxation of laws on 
obscenity and marijuana.) 

For the rest of the year, Ashby and the company stayed in Canada, 
where the rain, snow, and freezing temperatures of a Toronto winter 
made California seem a world away. Despite the cold, they felt fortunate 
to be far from the depression many felt back home when Nixon won a 
landslide victory, taking 60 percent of the popular vote. 

Ashby had decided to shoot the film chronologically, as this would 
help the inexperienced Quaid and Otis Young, the actor who had 
replaced Rupert Crosse, ease their way into the characters. Toronto 


The Last Detail 


doubled as Norfolk, but with this exception, Ashby's company made the 
same journey Buddusky and Mulhall took as they gave Meadows a taste 
of the good life before his internment, traveling from Virginia up the 
East Coast to New Hampshire, and taking in Washington, D.C., New 
York, and Boston on the way. 

Quaid, in his first major film role, found himself thrust into a surreal 
new world. "The first night I arrived for The Last Detail," he recalls, "I 
went to Hal's hotel room, and someone came in with a huge garbage bag 
filled with grass, saying, T got the supply for the movie!"" Quaid was 
concerned about making a good impression in his first scene: "I remem- 
ber I was very nervous, and I had my eyes twitching, my eyeballs rolling, 
and my lips quivering, and my head shaking, and my hands trembling, 
and had my inner monologue working, and I was really acting. We did 
a take, and Hal came over to me, and put a hand on my shoulder, and 
leaned down and said, 'Randy, we don't have to do the whole movie in 
the first scene.' It had a very calming effect on me, and I was able to do 
the part with the confidence he always instilled in me."' 

Ashby kept a close eye on Quaid but allowed him to develop into 
the role, just as Meadows grows in confidence and comes out of his shell 
over the course of the film. "Randy, I loved him because he was very 
outgoing," Ashby said, "and as an actor the man is a genius. I've never 
worked with anybody in my life like him."' 

Michael Chapman, the first-time director of photography who was 
shooting The Last Detail, was another up-and-comer whom Ashby had 
taken a chance on. It was no secret that Chapman was not Ashby's first 
choice — he had tried to get Haskell Wexler, Nestor Almendros, and 
Gordon Willis — but Chapman had been Willis's camera operator on The 
Landlord and had served an apprenticeship with him much as Ashby had 
with Bob Swink. Chapman and Ashby formulated a specific look for the 
film, using natural lighting to bring a stark realism and immediacy to 
the action. 

Chapman's documentary-style photography was perfectly in tune 
with the tight, deliberate script by Robert Towne, whose emotionally 
spare writing featured characters who were not immediately likable. 
Ashby was making a politically charged film (it was overtly antimilitary, 
with clear anti-Vietnam War undercurrents), but unlike his previous 


Being Hal Ashby 

films, in which he attacked social and political targets with broad humor 
based on stereotypes, here the people whose actions and beliefs he was 
questioning were his main characters. 

Talking about Towne's protagonists, Ashby said, "There's no way 
I could ever relate to what they're doing with their lives. But I would 
never take cheap shots at them. I felt sorry for them and tried to get 
to know them through their plights.'"* His experiences at Puget Sound 
Naval Academy, and the ideologies he had acquired since then, made 
him naturally prejudiced against hardened navy lifers like Buddusky 
and Mulhall, but his attempts to understand and sympathize with them 
brought him closer to the material and arguably took him to a higher 
level as a director. The Last Detail was, as Gerry Ayres described it 
in a letter to Ashby, "an off-handedly humorous handling of what is 
to all other intents a serious business," finding the absurd and darkly 
funny in an essentially depressing situation.^ Because of his respect for 
Towne's writing, Ashby held back from his natural impulse to treat the 
script as a rough blueprint, saying that he "would not go for improv on 
Bob's scripts because his scripts are so damn good.'"" The one notable 
exception was in a scene where the sailors are hanging out with some 
hippie girls. When one of the girls, played by Nancy Allen, compliments 
Buddusky on his uniform, Nicholson ad-libbed, "They are cute, aren't 
they? You know what I like about it? One of my favorite things about 
this uniform is the way it makes your dick look, eh?" 

Ashby loved working with Nicholson; however, in the first few days 
of the shoot, he worried that his acting was a little too large. "But I 
didn't get into anything with him, because I wanted to see it on film 
first," Ashby said. "It just felt too big, but when I looked at it, it wasn't. 
I've never seen anything like it. It was just a natural thing, and it never 
happens too big for film." ^ Though Nicholson's instincts were sound, he 
didn't rely on them, instead working hard to ensure that he knew and 
understood Billy "Badass" Buddusky inside out. Unbidden by his direc- 
tor, he made each take minutely different from the ones before; he was 
giving his own personal interpretation of the character and giving Ashby 
leeway in the editing room. Nicholson's awareness as a screen actor was 
acute, and he would ask Ashby to let him look through the viewfinder as 
a shot was being set up so he knew the parameters of the scene and how 
much freedom he had within the frame. "Hal is the first director to let 

The Last Detail 


me go, to let me find my own level," Nicholson enthused. "I'm playing 
this character Billy on two, three, four different levels, all at the same 
time. And that is the difference between college and pro football."* 

Because the film was so much about machismo and masculinity, there 

were only a handful of minor female roles, such as the prostitute, played 
by Carol Kane. Another actress with a small supporting role was Kath- 
leen Miller, a pretty twenty-eight-year-old who was making her film 
debut after a number of years on the New York theatrical scene. She and 
Ashby fell for each other while they were shooting in Toronto, and, after 
a week together. Miller says, "We decided we didn't want to be apart, 
so I jumped into it."' Miller was the daughter of Aaron Miller, who for 
years had run the television arm of Paramount, and she had grown up 
in Los Angeles with Gary Grant turning up at her tenth birthday party 
and Gandice Bergen as one of her best friends. Ashby and Miller decided 
that she would move in with him in Los Angeles, so when the company 
traveled to Virginia and then snaked back up the East Goast, she went 
with them. 

The production had been barred from filming on a U.S. naval base, 
but no one could stop shooting outside one. In Norfolk, Ashby auda- 
ciously shot a scene outside the gates of the base in order to fool people 
into thinking the footage from Toronto was filmed there too. He was due 
to shoot some scenes on a train in nearby Richmond, but the railroad 
equipment he had wanted was not available there, so it had to be moved 
from Atlanta, Georgia, at great cost, much to the annoyance of the Go- 
lumbia executives. 

When the trains arrived, there were more problems. Ashby had an 
eight-page scene to film of Nicholson, Young, and Quaid on the train, 
starting with them getting on at the station. However, the train had been 
left in the yards instead. With only that day to get the scene in the can, 
Ashby was then told that he had to be finished by 2 p.m., and as he pre- 
pared to start shooting he discovered that the train was painfully slow. 

"Jesus Christ, can't we go any faster.'" asked Ashby. "This train's 
really slow." 

"We're in the yard," he was told. "We can't go any more than seven 
miles an hour." 

Observant viewers noted the train's sluggish pace in that scene, but 


Being Hal Ashby 

for the most part Ashby's assumption that people's focus would be on 
Nicholson and company proved well-founded. "It's crazy," he said, re- 
calling the incident. "So what you do is let things go that you wouldn't 
ordinarily let go and you say, 'Fuck it, it's a film. . . 

After five days in Washington, D.C., and another five in New York, 
where Ashby shot after hours at the Rockefeller Center ice rink (using 
Gerry Ayres and Pablo Ferro among the extras), the company moved on 
to Boston, the final destination on their whistle-stop tour. The city's Suf- 
folk County jail doubled as the brig at Portsmouth, and, because it was 
still operational, the cast and crew had to be locked inside for the two 
days they shot there, allowed to move around only with special passes. 
As Columbia complained about the budget and urged Ashby to finish 
quickly, he shot the final scenes in the desolate wastes of Deer Island, 
across the bay from downtown Boston. A reporter visiting Ashby as he 
filmed the last shots on freezing Deer Island asked him to talk about the 
film. "I'm cold," was all he could manage to say." 

The day after the film wrapped, Ashby had his editor send along 
what he had cut together so far. He was feeling very positive about the 
way the shoot had gone but was shocked to see the first sections of the 
assemblage. Ashby felt he had no option but to fire the editor, recalling, 
"I really almost got ill. I mean, I didn't know what the hell his point of 
view was at all, other than trying to use every piece of film I shot."'^ The 
young editor, all too aware of his director's reputation as a master cutter, 
had tried to second-guess what Ashby would have done. In his downcast 
state, Ashby feared he would have to edit the film himself, despondently 
thinking: "Holy Christ, here I'm going to have another fucking year of 
my life in this room."^' 

Fortunately, Gerry Ayres suggested he bring in Robert C. Jones, the 
editor Ayres had used on his last film, Cisco Pike (1972). Jones, the son 
of director and former editor Harmon Jones, had been nominated as 
Best Editor for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) the year Ashby 
won his Oscar. ("That was one reason I hated him right off the bat!" 
Jones jokes.) Jones was wary of working for Ashby, as he'd heard "horror 
stories" about him working "ungodly hours" and also that "he edited 
at his house so you couldn't escape. Jones, however, was probably the 
quickest editor in the business — exactly the person Ashby needed — and 
he cautiously agreed to cut the film. 

The Last Detail 


While Jones got started, Ashby turned his attention to other projects. 
In mid-February, he flew out to Ken Kesey's ranch in Eugene, Oregon, to 
work with him on the One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest screenplay for 
a few weeks as the film's producers, Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, 
wanted the film ready to shoot in July. During the filming of The Last 
Detail, Ashby had been in communication with Peter Sellers, who had 
seen Harold and Maude and was very keen to work with Ashby. Sellers 
had sent him a number of scripts, including Arigato, based on Richard 
Condon's comic novel about a wine heist. Ashby got Terry Southern to 
help with the script, while Southern himself was pushing for Ashby to 
direct Merlin, his Arthurian project that Mick Jagger was tentatively 

In order to get his head around The Last Detail, Jones had put the 
film back into rushes, and just six weeks after starting he had a first 
cut ready. Ashby said later that the four-hour first cut was "the best the 
picture ever was" and even thought it releasable in that form.' ' He found 
Jones's editing a revelation and was totally in awe of his ability to choose 
the right takes, cut together pieces of film that didn't match, be creative 
with the material, and do all this quickly. He was slightly envious of his 
new editor's skills but as a director was delighted to have Jones working 
for him. Although he still spent a lot of time in the editing room, Ashby 
had finally found an editor he trusted completely and felt able to leave 
Jones to his work. 

In May, he went to New York to hold auditions for the supporting 
roles in Cuckoo's Nest and saw a raft of young actors, including Danny 
DeVito, James Woods, F. Murray Abraham, and William Devane, as 
well as some less classically trained actors such as Meatloaf and John 
Belushi. He also saw, and passed on, Ronny Cox, Burt Young, and Lane 
Smith, all of whom he would end up working with later. 

Ashby was in close communication with Kesey, a real kindred spirit, 
who was growing worried about the producers' response to his take on 
the film. Kesey wrote to Ashby: 

There are a lot of thoughts, speculations, fantasies that flit about 
my ravelled heap of a head, that I must keep out of my adaptation 
because such thoughts, I have discerned, upset our colleagues. 
Yet since these thoughts seem to be potentially pertanate [sic] to 


Being Hal Ashby 

our project I intend to pen them to you alone, kinda like Memos 
From Selznik [sic] only these will be Ruminations to Ashby. 

Like let us say that I am one of them straight-foreward-spoken 
[sic] types, the sort that says I may not know what Art I like but 
can you dance to it? Does it move me to move? Or just move me, 
in a banal, worthless Norman Rockwell trick? Take the flick 
of Woodstock. Everybody knew it was a great and holy scene 
that went down and so were aptly moved by the flick. Norman 
Rockwell movement, though. Whereas Altamont was a horse 
of a darker color and is still up in the air, thus pertinant [sic], 
because we are still up in the air. Nobody knows whether what 
went down was Good, Bad or Pure Hellish. Not yet. But they do 
know you could dance to it, had to dance to it, like a barefooty 
boy prancing across a Jooly [sic] highway uncomfortably hot. 
I'd like to make Cuckoo's Nest that kind of uncomfortable.^* 

Producer Saul Zaentz, who needed a mainstream success after the 
recent failure of his last investment in a Broadway show, was particularly 
displeased with Kesey's approach. "I fear for our project," Kesey wrote 
to Ashby. "Not that it won't happen but that it will happen out from un- 
der our crazed but gentle auspices." Kesey proposed that he, Ashby, and 
the film's director of photography and production designer — Haskell 
Wexler and Mike Haller — take a road trip in a rented Winnebago to the 
locations where they would be shooting. Kesey, who had never written a 
screenplay before, also hoped the trip would alleviate the writer's block 
he was suffering from. "When I'm clear on this thing," he wrote later, 
"I'm articulate and it snaps into focus as a syncopated fugue of images 
and emotions that convey the meaning of madness. But when I become 
unclear, as I have been for weeks now, all I see is a rock-and-roll light 
show with a rickety plot." Kesey was adamant that the film had "to be 
madness communicating, not a film about madness. If we don't attempt 
with our full intention we fail at the outset. We might play it safe and 
bring in a calculated work of critical and financial success but we will 
still have failed." 

Ashby wanted Jack Nicholson for McMurphy, the lead in Cuckoo's 
Nest, but Douglas and Zaentz claimed the actor was asking too much 
money. When they continued to express dissatisfaction with Kesey's 

The Last Detail 


screenplay and offered the writer a disadvantageous contract, Ashby and 
Kesey regretfully withdrew from the project. "I worked on that for a 
whole year or more and they wouldn't cast Jack Nicholson in the part," 
Ashby said later, "so I took a walk. That's the truth. They made up 
excuses.'"* (In a cruel irony, Nicholson was later cast by Ashby's replace- 
ment, Milos Forman, and the film, released in 1975, became only the 
second ever to sweep the five main categories at the Academy Awards. 
Nevertheless, Ashby was disappointed by the film, managing to say only 
"Milos did his best 'T 

With Cuckoo's Nest gone, Ashby focused on the other projects he had 
in the pipeline. Leaving Jones and his assistant editors to finish The Last 
Detail, Ashby flew to London to spend ten days with Peter Sellers and 
discuss not only Arigato but another novel Sellers wanted to bring to the 
big screen, Jerzy Kosinski's Being There. "When I read Being There, I was 
crazy about it," Sellers said. "I had just seen Harold and Maude, which I 
thought was sensational, so I rushed a copy of the book to Ashby."^" 

Ashby had been in London only a day when he got a phone call from 
a panicked Bob Jones. Columbia, annoyed by Ashby's disinclination to 
return phone calls and his perceived tardiness in delivering a final cut 
of The Last Detail, had decided enough was enough. Jones and Robert 
Towne were in Ashby's house on Appian Way working on the film's 
structure when the head of Columbia's editing department called to say 
that a studio representative was coming to take the film. Jones refused 
to accept this, and a string of phone calls followed until he was talking 
to John Veitch, head of production. 

"You don't have any choice," Veitch said. "We're taking it." 

"I do have a choice," Jones retorted. "I have the key to the house. 
I'm locking it up, and sending everybody home. If you want to take it, 
you're breaking and entering. "^^ 

On hearing what had happened, Ashby called Columbia and man- 
aged to appease the powers that be. It was not only the duration of 
the editing process that was making them nervous: the film featured an 
unprecedented amount of bad language that they could not monitor or 
control as long as the film was being cut on Appian Way. The studio was 
also in major financial trouble, having recorded a loss of $84 million 
between 1971 and 1973, and was desperate for films with as much com- 
mercial appeal as possible. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Ashby returned to Los Angeles intrigued by Sellers's pitch for Being 
There, a modern parable about a childlike gardener who unwittingly be- 
comes a political heavyweight. Sellers's career, however, was in a slump, 
and neither he nor Ashby was in a position to raise enough money to 
make the film. "I guess I didn't have the strength then or something," 
Ashby reflected later. "I couldn't get the damn thing set up."^^ That left 
Sellers pinning his hopes on Arigato, and Ashby was committed enough 
to the project to turn down Michael Butler's offer to direct the movie 
version of Hair. He may have regretted this decision when his misgivings 
over Arigato's script compelled him to back out of the film and he sud- 
denly found himself with nothing on the horizon. 

By August, a final cut of The Last Detail had been completed and 
submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The 
MPAA gave it an R rating but, significantly, did not feel any cuts were 
necessary. In fact, as Gerry Ayres told Columbia's new president, the 
former agent David Begelman, the MPAA thought it the "finest picture 
of the year without contest. "^^ Despite such an endorsement from so 
conservative an organization, Columbia was unhappy with the film and 
asked for twenty-six lines with the word "fuck" in them to be cut. 

Ashby and Towne were understandably resistant. During a meeting 
at Columbia, Towne explained that within the structure of the armed 
services, the protagonists were rendered essentially impotent, that all they 
could do was complain and swear. However, the Columbia executives 
were concerned only with the number of obscenities and explained that, 
while they did not want to emasculate the film, they had to do something 
about the "very, very strong" language. "We want you to do something 
about it," they said. "We want you to help us with it, because we feel we 
can reach a broader mass audience that way." 

"Wait a minute," said Ashby, "you're telling me that if the word 
'fuck' is used eighty times in the film and if we cut it down to forty times, 
we're going to reach a broader audience?" 


"I don't even know what the hell you're talking about," Ashby re- 
plied, "because I guarantee you now that the first time somebody opens 
his mouth and says 'fuck,' there's going to be 10 people who get up and 
leave the theater. But if we do it and that just becomes part of it, maybe 

The Last Detail 


people can actually have some fun with the picture, because that's the 
way these guys talk."^"* 

Ashby managed to convince Columbia to let him preview The Last 
Detail as it was so that the public's reaction could be gauged. "So we 
previewed it in San Francisco," Ashby said, "and I don't think even 10 
people got up and left."^' Buoyed by this success, and finally realizing 
what a good film it had on its hands, Columbia decided to give the film 
a limited release to qualify for Oscar consideration — without any cuts. 
The plan was then to have a wide release in the spring of the following 
year when, the studio hoped, its Oscar buzz would generate optimum 
interest and ticket sales. 

On November 9, 1973, just eight days before her eighty-sixth birthday, 
Eileen Ashby died at her home in Ogden. Hal flew in for the funeral, held 
three days later, but looked awkward and out of place among the other 
mourners as he sat at the back of the chapel. "He just wasn't conven- 
tional," his brother Jack said, recalling that he turned up for the funeral 
"in the clothes that he had with him. He said, 'I've never had a suit, 
never worn one, and I couldn't be buying one just for the funeral.'"^* 

Ashby had been so engrossed in his work and his troubled personal 
life that he only occasionally contacted his mother during the last years 
of her life. His homecoming trip to Ogden in 1970 came eighteen months 
later than promised, and he didn't even attend Hetz's funeral. Though 
he sent money every month to help pay for Eileen's care, it was partly to 
assuage the guilt he felt about not writing or calling. He was afraid she 
would ask how his life was and didn't want to admit to another failing or 
failed marriage, so he had cut himself off from her. As Eileen struggled 
with crippling arthritis, failing sight, and heart problems, all she wanted 
was some proof that she was still in her little boy's thoughts. 

"You have had 5 marriages," she wrote to him in 1969, "yet you 
have never called me even one day before the marriage to let me know 
you were being married. And never, never am I told of the divorces. 

"I know I am not very bright. I don't even pretend to be. I have 
always given all the love and service that any mother could give. 

"Actually I am much too old to take into my heart new wives and 
new grandchildren and in a very few years to find that wife and children 


Being Hal Ashby 

have been divorced and another wife and family soon takes their place. 
Your actions are not exactly new to me. Many of them are honest exact 
duplicates of your father. He knew I would not quarrel with him just as 
you know I am not going to come to Calif, and criticize you."^^ 

Because Eileen could no longer travel to see Hal, as she had done un- 
til the late 1960s, the physical distance between them had turned into an 
emotional divide. Once, just a year or so before she died, Ashby decided 
to drive up to Ogden to see her as he had something he wanted to tell her. 
The trip was lonely and surreal: he spent the first night sleeping in his 
car in Zion National Park in southern Utah and woke to find a troupe of 
girl guides peering into his car. When he reached Ogden, he decided not 
to visit Eileen immediately. Instead, he checked into a motel across the 
street from her house and just sat in his room watching the light in her 
window. The next morning, he got into his car and drove back home. 

In one of Eileen's last letters to Hal, she expressed regret over the 
way all his marriages had gone but stressed, "I am very proud of you in 
regard to the way you have climbed in the picture business. You must 
have a large portion of the Ashby genius. I know of at least 6 geniuses in 
the Ashby family. But I have only known one Hal." The letter ends, "I 
feel like I have never really known you since you were a young boy."^^ 

While The Landlord and Harold and Maude shared a certain playful, 
rebellious spirit. The Last Detail, with its stark realism and emotional 
sparseness, did not seem much like "a Hal Ashby film." Yet by moving 
beyond the broad humor of his earlier films and attempting to empathize 
with characters he didn't naturally connect with, Ashby had matured 
greatly as a filmmaker. 

His directing has been criticized for being light-handed, but Towne's 
script was so densely written that it allowed little space for a director's 
ego to intrude, and the directorial restraint, in fact, feels just right. Ashby 
appears in a cameo, as a man sitting at the bar watching with obvious 
pleasure as Nicholson plays darts, and the scene is an apt analogy for his 
approach to directing. Whenever possible, he let his actors go, guiding 
them only when necessary. The results were sensational, and Nicholson 
and Quaid both richly deserved the Oscar nominations they received for 
Best Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively. 

When The Last Detail got its one-week, Los Angeles-only release. 

The Last Detail 


it garnered rave reviews, and Academy members came in almost un- 
precedented numbers to see it. Nicholson, Quaid, Towne, and Ashby 
were the main recipients of the critics' plaudits: Nicholson's performance 
confirmed him as a genuine star, Quaid was dubbed a hot prospect, 
Towne was Hollywood's new Shakespeare, and Ashby (in the words of 
Andrew Sarris) with his "sensitive, precise direction" had "burst into 
the major leagues."^' Michael Haller's production design and Michael 
Chapman's cinematography, which combined to create the film's aus- 
tere, wintry look, Jones's tight editing, and Ashby's old friend Johnny 
Mandel's cleverly ironic use of military music all drew praise as well. 
Considering the excellent word of mouth and high level of interest in the 
film, Columbia missed a trick by withdrawing the film after its limited 
run. Two months later, when The Last Detail was released nationwide, 
it once again got excellent reviews. It took a respectable $4 million at the 
box office, but everyone knew it could have earned much more. 



Hal had a temperament that I guess was almost Buddha-like 
in some ways. He literally made you think better in his pres- 
ence. It wasn't always so much what he said, but he had such 
a calming influence, and particularly with two people like 
Warren and I were, who were prone to be volatile. 
— Robert Towne 

Warren treated him like any other member of the crew. But 
Hal had to stay around; it was like his bargain with the devil 
because it was going to be a big hit. 
— Lee Grant 

The Last Detail consolidated Ashby's growing friendship with Jack Nich- 
olson, and he became part of the actor's inner circle, going with him to 
Lakers' games, and hanging out at his house on Mulholland Drive. He 
got to know Nicholson's new girlfriend, Anjelica Huston, and many of 
his friends, including record producer Lou Adler, writer Rudy Wurlitzer, 
and, most notably, Warren Beatty. 

One night in the fall of 1973, Beatty told Ashby about Shampoo, a 
project he and Robert Towne had been working on six or seven years 
earlier about the exploits of a womanizing hairdresser in Beverly Hills. 
Both Towne and Beatty had written versions, and they had fallen out 
over whose ideas were better, but Beatty was now keen to resurrect the 
project and make it his next film. At Beatty's invitation, Ashby read both 
scripts and concluded that a combination of the two could produce a 
very good film. He was savvy enough to know that working with stars 
like Nicholson and Beatty could only raise his profile and help his ca- 
reer. "Warren was a giant star," says Jerome Hellman, who would later 
make Coming Home with Ashby, "and Hal looked up to and cherished 




his friendship with Warren. I think for him to do Shampoo was like a 
validation, because complicated as Hal was, and as quixotic as he was, 
he didn't want to fail, he wanted to be on the A-list."^ 

Despite resistance from Towne, who inexplicably felt that Ashby 
did not sufficiently respect his scripts, Beatty brought in Ashby to direct 
Shampoo. Beatty had found a home for the film at Columbia, which 
recognized Beatty as a star who could deliver the megabit it desperately 
needed. The next step was to put together a shooting script combining 
Beatty's and Towne's screenplays. The two men had huge respect for 
each other, but their relationship resembled a volatile marriage, fraught 
with jealousy and suspicion. When Ashby and Beatty first went to work 
on Shampoo's script, Ashby wrote a note to his secretary, saying, "I'm 
going to be working with Warren for next few days. Taking no phone 
calls. . . . Don't tell [Robert Towne] I'm working with Warren — (Don't 
tell anyone I'm working with Warren)."^ After a few days alone with 
Beatty in his suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, during which they con- 
structed what Ashby called "a long rough composite kind of script," 
Ashby brought in Towne to hone and pare down what they had collated 

In the intensive ten-day period it took to write Shampoo, the demons 
of Beatty and Towne's friendship emerged as they wrestled for control 
and Ashby played referee. Towne says the writing sessions were fueled 
by "adrenaline and rage," with the pair most often referring to each 
other as "motherfucker" and Towne shouting at Beatty, "You cunt. . . . 
You're just being a cunt. . . . That's more cunt stuff.'"* "We had a very 
volatile time, I remember," says Towne, "and Hal was in the middle, and 
thank God he was. We'd talk about it, and then I'd go into the next room 
and write ferociously and come out. We were all a little thrown by the 
surprising quality of the work, and the speed. Beatty also ultimately 
felt extremely positive about the results of the claustrophobic writing 
session, calling it "the most creative 10 days of my life, probably."* 

In its first drafts, written in the late 1960s, Shampoo had a contem- 
porary setting, but during the rewrites it became a period film set on 
the eve of the 1968 presidential election. Bridging several genres, it was 
a sex comedy that drew inspiration from Thomas Wycherly's play The 
Country Wife (1675) and (apparently) Beatty's own bed-hopping antics, 
but it was also a thoughtful backward look at America's recent history. 


Being Hal Ashby 

reflecting Beatty's newly politicized mentality. The lack of strong female 
roles (the main cause of Beatty and Towne's previous falling out) had 
been resolved by giving Beatty's character, lothario hairdresser George 
Roundy, an ex-lover, Jackie, and a girlfriend, Jill. In a provocative bit 
of casting, they would be played by two of Beatty's real-life exes, Julie 
Christie and Goldie Hawn, respectively. 

Ashby was to get $125,000 plus 7.5 percent of net profits for direct- 
ing and was given a budget of $4.5 million (of which $2 million was 
"above the line," i.e., for the marquee actors' salaries). Beatty, who in- 
vested $1 million of his own money in the film, had initially considered 
directing but decided to take the role of "creative producer" instead. 
The initial implications of this were that he had already brought on 
board Christie and Hawn as well as Carrie Fisher, the seventeen-year- 
old daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Fisher was play- 
ing Lorna, the sexually precocious daughter of Felicia Karpf, one of 
George's many client- lovers. 

Ashby began casting the remaining roles by bringing in his friend 
Lee Grant to play needy Beverly Hills housewife Felicia. Shampoo was 
his first Los Angeles-based film as director, so he entertained himself 
by coming up with the people who, for him, personified the city and, 
particularly, Hollywood. For the role of Lester Karpf, Felicia's business- 
man husband whom George both cuckolds and lobbies to invest in his 
salon, Ashby shortlisted agent and producer Freddie Fields, director 
Gene Saks, and Columbia head honcho David Begelman, before opting 
for Broadway actor Jack Warden. He cast producer Tony Bill as Johnny 
Pope, the film director who is chasing Jill, after considering Paramount 
boss Robert Evans, director Richard Donner, and a then unknown Har- 
rison Ford for the role. He also gave bit parts to two other producers. 
Brad Dexter and William Castle, the latter the man behind Homicidal, 
the film that had nearly launched Joan Marshall (as Jean Arless) to star- 
dom. Marshall herself appeared in one of the beauty salon scenes, as 
did Kathleen Miller, who played Anjanette, the client who is memorably 
introduced when George is blow-drying her hair, her head nestling sug- 
gestively in his groin. "I did Shampoo while I was living with Hal," says 
Miller. "I wanted to do the part Goldie did, but they wanted stars. I 
guess I pushed Hal too much, it wasn't fair of me. When I did Shampoo 
I felt everyone thought I got it because of Hal."'' 



As Ashby began to assemble his crew, it became clear that Beatty 
regarded Ashby as his director more than the director. Ashby wanted 
Haskell Wexler as his director of photography, but Beatty vetoed this 
idea because of Wexler's reputation for being difficult to work with. 
Ashby's favored production designer, Michael Haller, didn't make the 
cut either. Beatty instead brought in Laszlo Kovacs and Richard Sylbert 
as cinematographer and production designer because he had worked 
with them before and knew their abilities. In fact, with the exception of 
Bob Jones, whose editorial brilliance Ashby refused to give up, the entire 
crew of Shampoo was made up of "Warren's people." 

"Warren is the kind of person who, once he makes up his mind to do 
something, ... is hysterically committed to it," said Towne. "He's like 
a sergeant blowing his whistle and going over the top and leading the 
troops into the machine guns."* When filming commenced on March 11, 
1974, Beatty converted his dressing room into a makeshift apartment so 
that he could spend eighteen hours a day working on the film without 
ever going home. 

The shoot, scheduled for a tight fifty-eight days, was tough on ev- 
eryone. Goldie Hawn was unhappy with the simplistic personality of 
her character, Jill, and Julie Christie agreed with her that they probably 
should have swapped roles. And though Christie and Beatty's breakup 
a year earlier had been amicable, the closely autobiographical nature of 
their story line strained their working relationship; once he reportedly 
made her wait all day to do a scene, then made her do thirty-eight takes, 
stopping only when he was happy with it. 

Beatty also alienated Lee Grant by telling her she had the wrong 
expression on her face. "Well, I got a migraine and went home for two 
days," Grant recalls, "and when I came back I told . . . Hal Ashby that I 
couldn't work like that and I had to quit."' Ashby's response was just to 
say OK, as he didn't want to force Grant to stay on the film. "He never got 
exercised about it," Grant says. "I felt like he was on my side. "^^ Just as she 
was walking out, Beatty conceded that he might have been wrong. 

Grant's feelings were shared by many on the set as Beatty had an 
alienating obsession with getting the film done to his specifications. "I 
was not happy with Warren," remembers Goldie Hawn. "He was so 
uncomfortable during the whole movie, he looked so troubled, always 
frowning — he was running the whole show."" 


Being Hal Ashby 

Beatty's need to be in control was particularly problematic for Ash- 
by. Speaking at an American Film Institute seminar just months after 
completing Shampoo, Ashby's uncertain, stumbling account of working 
with Beatty hinted at just how frustrated he became: "It wasn't as dif- 
ficult — many times it wasn't easy — it was very difficult because I was 
working with an actor who was the producer of the film and we spent 
a little bit of time trying to differentiate between that, never with much 
success — you really can't because you're talking about a lot of things 
when you're doing a film. I really believe that films are a communal 
endeavor. I'm the director of the film; I know I'm the director of the film. 
I know that when I say, 'Turn it on, turn it off,' that that's when they're 
going to turn it on and turn it off."^^ 

Ashby faced a repeat of Arthur Penn's struggles on Bonnie and 
Clyde — on which Beatty had also been a "creative producer" — as he 
dealt with Beatty's compulsion to make the movie his way. "I had been 
with the project for many years and had specific ideas about what I 
wanted to do," Beatty says. "I liked to be free to come up with foolish 
ideas and see that they were foolish afterwards." Talking about Ashby's 
later collaboration with Jerry Hellman on Coming Home, Beatty admits 
that Hellman was a better producer for Ashby: "He was less intrusive 
than I am. Well, I'm not intrusive, I'm active."" 

On set, Ashby was as quiet and gentle as he had been on previous 
films. "Hal was a very sweet and softspoken person," says Peter Sorel, 
the still photographer on Shampoo, "never raised his voice even when 
a highpowered screenwriter and our star/producer were rather louder 
about their directorial input. I thought he was a man of infinite patience." 
Beatty called Ashby "the nicest, kindest man," but that very kindness, 
which in the past had been an asset, here became a weakness." 

In the first few days, when Beatty asked what a shot was going to 
look like, Ashby said, "Hey, come look through the camera." 

"It won't embarrass you?" Beatty asked. 

"What's going to embarrass me?" said Ashby.^* 

Though Ashby didn't see this as any different from when he had let 
Nicholson do the same, Beatty took it as an invitation to infringe on 
Ashby's turf. As shooting progressed, a pattern emerged: Beatty would 
get his takes first (eight or ten, on average), and when he was happy, he'd 
ask Ashby whether he wanted the actors to go again. And then Towne, 



who had his own power struggle with Beatty, would put his oar in too. 
The film was a collaboration between three very creative minds, but 
Beatty admits, "Robert and I were not in total agreement, and Hal and 
I were not in total agreement.'"^ "We'd get three different directions," 
says Goldie Hawn, "one from the director, one from Bob, and one from 
Warren. There were times when we'd say, 'Guys, get together, can one 
person give me a note?' So it became difficult."^'* 

When Beatty talked about Shampoo in interviews, he always pre- 
sented himself as "the filmmaker"; in his eyes, Ashby was just another 
crew member. Beatty and Towne often went off on their own to discuss 
scenes, then came back to tell Ashby how they wanted things done. 
Though he was isolated when he wasn't needed, when Ashby was shoot- 
ing a scene, he was given literally no space, as Towne would crouch next 
to the camera on one side while Beatty leaned over his shoulder on the 
other. If either wasn't satisfied with a take, the actors would go again. 

Once, in a state of desperation, Ashby went to production designer 
Richard Sylbert and told him, "I can't take it anymore. These guys won't 
let me alone." 

"He hated it," Sylbert recalled, "because we'd have meetings, and 
we'd go, 'All right, Hal, this is what we're gonna do.' We beat the shit 
out of him, had him boxed in. . . . They'd make him reshoot, do takes he 
didn't want to do, coverage he felt he didn't need. But generally he was 
smart enough to just go with the flow. He was the best person they could 
have hired, because Ashby's feelings about people were very good. He 
was a sweetheart of a man, and a wonderful director. To do that movie, 
you couldn't be mean, you couldn't do an Altman."" 

Ashby, with his ingrained dislike of producers, found himself being 
bulldozed by his producer but could not haul him off the set this time 
because he was also the film's star. He was all about collective creativ- 
ity, but the deal had always been that everybody knew that he was the 
head of the collective. "Hal was like an office boy on that," says Haskell 
Wexler, who visited Ashby on the set, "and he wasn't used to being that 
way. Warren chewed Hal up and spit him out."^" When Haskell's son, 
Jeff, saw Ashby near the end of the shoot, he remembers him as "not 
being there at all" and Beatty doing most of the directing. "This is not 
fun," Ashby told him. "He was in exile on that film," Jeff says, "but a 
self-imposed exile. "^^ 


Being Hal Ashby 

For Ashby, the world of the film wasn't much more hospitable than 
that of the set, and he struggled to feel sympathy for Towne's shallow 
and self-absorbed characters. He described Beatty's alter ego, George, 
as "a lame" and had nothing in common with the moneyed, idle, and 
apathetic Felicia and Lester Karpf.^^ Even so, he fought the tendency to 
portray them as caricatures: "They're not people I spend time with, but 
they're people I've looked at and felt badly for. So I spent a lot of time 
being very kind to those people. The other way's easy. To make fun of 
people is easy. Life isn't that easy."^^ 

Ashby saw an opportunity in Shampoo to underline the characters' 
social and moral corruption by showing how it was reflected in American 
politics. He had his assistants find television footage of Nixon's speeches 
and those of his vice president, Spiro Agnew, and picked out the most 
ironic clips he could find. Though the film is set on election day, politics 
are barely discussed, and no one is seen voting, so what is said by politi- 
cians on televisions in the background provides the core of the film's 
political thrust. In one scene, Nixon talks in his first speech as president 
about "bringing the country together." At the same moment, Lester says 
to George, "Maybe Nixon will be better. What's the difference? They're 
all a bunch of jerks." He then adds, "You can lose it all, you know, 
no matter who you are." A few months after the film wrapped, Nixon 
resigned in the wake of Watergate. Beatty admitted to an interviewer, 
"The Nixon-Agnew scenes get much larger laughs than I had intended, 
because of what has happened since. I didn't really plan it that way."^'' 
Ashby, however, had planned it that way. The Nixon jibes were just a 
continuation of what he had done in The Landlord and Harold and 
Maude and also The Last Detail, in which a hippie incredulously asks 
Mulhall what he could possibly like about Nixon. For Ashby, Nixon's 
resignation only confirmed what he had known all along. 

In Ashby 's rare off-hours, he looked to distract himself from his 
frustrations on set. Though he was seemingly still with Kathleen Miller 
during the making of the film, Deanna Benatovich remembers: "He 
would come by my place in Malibu sometimes and spend the night. 
When I asked him if we were getting back together I must have scared 
him and he stopped coming by. Hal didn't sleep very much and would 
frequently be up all night watching movies. He used to joke that they 
were paying him so much that he was being paid to watch movies and 
even make love to me."^^ 



Ashby also found that having alHes around him raised his spirits, 
and he welcomed visits from Bob Jones, Haskell and Jeff Wexler, and 
Tom Blackwell, his friend from the Laguna days who was now a success- 
ful artist in New York. Blackwell, who had maintained sporadic contact 
with Ashby over the years, saw him on a trip to the West Coast with his 
wife, Linda, and wrote afterward about his relief: "I always go through 
paranoid trips where I think you don't want to see me, but then when 
I do see you, it's the same old Hal. It's really funny too, because when 
I knew you in Laguna you were still struggling to get somewhere and I 
was just a kid trying to be an artist. Deadly serious, of course, but no- 
where. I guess the thing that sticks is that we both hung on and made it 
in our own way, we're both still growing and it didn't ruin us as people. 
I guess I've known so many people who copped out and settled for less 
than what they could do, and it means a lot to see what you're doing. 
The Last Detail was a hell of a movie. 

Blackwell was not the only person to think The Last Detail was a 
hell of a movie; the awards season, which took place during the Sham- 
poo shoot, confirmed just how highly regarded the film was. Nicholson 
won Best Actor awards from the National Society of Film Critics and 
the New York Film Critics Circle as well as at the Cannes Film Festival 
and the British Academy Awards, where Towne also won. Randy Quaid 
and Nicholson were nominated at the Golden Globes but both lost, and 
Quaid, Nicholson, and Towne all came away empty-handed at the Os- 
cars. This was a particular disappointment to Nicholson, who said, "I 
like the idea of winning at Cannes with The Last Detail, but not getting 
our own Academy Award hurt real bad. I did it in that movie, that was 
my best role. How often does one like that come along?"^^ 

Because Ashby believed that film was a communal art, he'd never 
had his Best Editing Oscar for In the Heat of the Night engraved with 
his name, feeling everyone involved in the film had actually won it. He 
was galled when Nicholson was snubbed by the Academy so righted the 
wrong by giving his dear friend his own Oscar, which Ashby felt he truly 

Despite what transpired on set, at the end of the Shampoo shoot Beatty 
was singing Ashby's praises, highlighting his intelligence and sensitivity 

as a director. Speaking today, Beatty says that Ashby's direction was the 
reason his performance in the film was so good, and his admiration for 


Being Hal Ashby 

Ashby is clear: "The word that comes to mind with Hal is 'modest.' His 
attitude was modest, his way of shooting was modest. Whenever Hal 
ventured himself on a choice in making the movie, I always felt he was 
right. Hal was never a person to speak crazily. I don't remember ever 
feeling that Hal was wrong about much of anything. He wouldn't speak 
until he knew what he thought, and then he would say it in the most 
encouraging way. I would call him a strong director — he wanted to put 
actors on the screen, not put himself on the screen. He had a great sense 
of humor, had great subtlety, and got the best out of people. "^^ 

Shampoo wrapped on June 12, and Ashby, keen to get away from 
the film for a while, started thinking about his next project. His agent, 
Mike Medavoy, had two possible projects for him to direct: North 
Dallas Forty, a hard-boiled drama about the high-octane lives of pro- 
fessional American football players, at Paramount, and an adaptation 
of Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel, at Columbia. Actress Ellen Burstyn, 
whose stock was high after the huge success of The Exorcist (1973), con- 
tacted Ashby about directing Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), 
a script by a first-time writer called Robert Getchell. Burstyn later told 
Ashby, "I was torn between you and Marty Scorsese, and finally decided 
on Marty because of a certain hard edge in Mean Streets [1973] that I 
thought would balance a certain softness in the Alice script."^' Ashby 
was announced as the director of North Dallas Forty but pulled out of 
the deal (the film, directed by Ted Kotcheff, was released in 1979), and 
soon after Michael Butler called to tell him that the offer to direct Hair 
was still on the table. 

Things fell quickly into place, and by early July a deal was set up 
through Peter Bart to make the film at Paramount, with Colin Higgins 
and Michael Haller signed as screenwriter and production designer, re- 
spectively. As Bob Jones was busy editing Shampoo, Ashby decided to go 
to England with Butler to work on ideas for Hair. But he wasn't leaving 
just Shampoo behind; he was also leaving Kathleen Miller. 

Ashby's relationship with Miller had become increasingly strained, 
in part because of the disparity between their careers; while Ashby was 
directing high-profile films (in which he gave her walk-on parts), she was 
working only occasionally, on television shows like Kojak and Cannon, 
and would sporadically put her energies into a novel or a screenplay, 
with even less success. She was fast approaching thirty and had no illu- 



sions that Ashby was going to marry her. When he flew off to England 
for a few months, both knew it was the end of the relationship. 

Owing to the continuing success of the stage version of Hair, Butler 
was a rich man, and his newly acquired wealth allowed him to play at 
being the country gentleman. He had bought Warfield Hall, in the Berk- 
shire village of Warfield, a sizable manor house near enough to London 
that its fifteen bedrooms were regularly occupied by people from "the 
scene" but distant enough to give its occupants a break from the bustle 
of the city. Butler was an active polo player, and enjoyed trips to London, 
but spent much of the summer with Ashby just relaxing and talking. 

"I really loved Hal — I thought he was a terrific guy," says Butler. 
"I considered him a very close friend; I liked spending time with him, 
liked being with him in any way possible. We just hung out together. I 
found him very calm. A very kind individual, very warm, very interest- 
ing. He would describe to me his philosophy about how he did things. 
Yes, he was quiet, but he was very easy with me in terms of talking."'" 
Over the course of a placid summer, Ashby and Butler smoked dope and 
discussed their vision of Hair, agreeing that it should retain as much of 
the philosophy and feel of the original as possible. 

However, not long after his return to Los Angeles, Ashby had a 
change of heart about Hair. "All I know is that I was up at my home in 
Montecido," says Butler, "and I got a call from Peter Bart that Hal had 
pulled out of the film. I took off like a shot and came down to LA because 
this was a terrible blow. I actually got busted on my trip coming down for 
smoking a joint and so I wound up spending some time in jail."^^ After 
their summer together, Butler felt betrayed when Ashby abandoned the 
project and disappointed that he had not found out from Ashby himself. 
He suspected that Ashby was "worried sick about the scope of the film 
project. Hal's movies had always been small pictures. By that, I mean 
small situations involving few people. Almost any musical, but particu- 
larly Hair, involves large casts. It's more like directing an army."'^ 

In the fall of 1974, Ashby worked with Bob Jones on the editing 
of Shampoo. He was disappointed that the music he had planned to 
include — ^Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield — was not 
in the film. Initially, Shampoo had been full of songs from 1968, but 
through a combination of Beatty's dislike of Ashby's musical choices and 
Columbia's budgetary restraints, most tracks were cut. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Ultimately, it was Paul Simon who composed the film's haunting, 
wispily ethereal score — approximately three minutes of music spread 
thinly over the duration of the film. "Christ, I've never done a picture 
before where I didn't bring the theme in till reel five, almost halfway 
through the film," said Ashby. "It was only used four or five times. All 
we wanted was just the suggestion of a theme. In other words, what I 
think we were doing was going anti-score. 

Everyone who knew Ashby knew that he was an avid music lover, 
and not a likely advocate of "anti-score," and that this was yet another 
example of Beatty's control over Shampoo. The film wasn't edited to 
Ashby's wishes either, as Beatty explains: "We had some small disagree- 
ments on the final editing of the movie. I was very happy with the final 
result, but in general I think Hal was more inclined to go for a more 
relaxed pace."^'' 

Ashby, however, looked to the future and focused on positives. Since 
his return to Los Angeles, he had been dating actress Dyan Cannon, 
and, in a strangely fortunate turn of events, his former agent, Mike Me- 
davoy, had become the head of West Coast production at United Artists 
(UA). Earlier that year, Medavoy had set up a two-picture development 
deal for Ashby at Universal, and he now put together a similar deal at 
UA. The only project specified in Ashby's UA agreement was Beyond 
the Mountain (a.k.a. Zebulon), a Western written by Jack Nicholson's 
friend Rudy Wurlitzer. Originally written for Sam Peckinpah (for whom 
Wurlitzer had previously penned the 1973 Pat Garrett and Billy the 
Kid), it intrigued Ashby because it showed the Indians' perspective and 
eschewed the stereotype of the West as an arena for the symbolic battle 
between good and evil. Ashby once told Wurlitzer, "I've never regretted 
saying 'no' to anything — it always led to something better."^^ Sadly for 
Wurlitzer, Ashby also passed on Beyond the Mountain when it failed 
to fill UA with sufficient confidence. But saying no did indeed lead to 
something better. 

In early 1975, Ashby and Beatty began previewing Shampoo. After a 
poor response from a conservative Santa Barbara audience, Beatty re- 
members that David Begelman and he "drove back to Los Angeles to- 
gether, and he gave me a nice little pat on the knee while he was driving 
and said, 'Look, they can't all work. On to the next!' But the next night 



we showed the movie in Beverly Hills and it was as good a reaction as 
you could ever want.""" After that screening (held at the Directors Guild 
building), Bob Rafelson declared himself "ecstatic" and told Ashby, 
"You are Brilliant."^^ Ashby noticed at the screening that the directors' 
wives, however, looked very uncomfortable. "All of them were getting 
up-tight," he said. "They thought we were presenting Hollywood. It 
wasn't that at all. One person said to me afterwards that his wife said, 
T know what that asshole [Beatty] is out doing all the time.' And we 
weren't even presenting Hollywood people. "^^ 

Though Judith Crist and Pauline Kael both declared the film a mas- 
terpiece, most critics gave it only lukewarm reviews. They were troubled 
by its uncomfortable mix of sociopolitical satire and brazen sexuality 
and were disappointed that the coming together of such a starry cast and 
talented creative team had not produced something more impressive. The 
film's mixed critical reception was illustrated in its coverage in the New 
York Times, where it received a very poor review from Walter Goodman 
but was called the best comedy of the year so far by the paper's chief 
critic, Vincent Canby, just a few months later. Whatever its flaws or 
merits. Shampoo got people talking, and its coarse language and sexual 
content had audiences flocking to see it. When asked about what was 
behind the controversial scene in which Julie Christie ducks under a res- 
taurant table to give Warren Beatty a blow job, Robert Towne quipped, 
"At this point — probably $30 million of film rental."^' 

Fans of the film debated just how closely Beatty's character was 
based on the man playing him, but none considered possible parallels 
with Shampoo's unassuming director. George is one of Ashby's long line 
of young heroes (or antiheroes) bemused by life, yet in him there is a 
crucial difference: the quintessential Ashby hero is a quester and a ques- 
tioner who fights to find his place in the world despite the fact that he 
does not fit in and, indeed, because of it — but George is the opposite. He 
wanders through life passively accepting the status quo, always saying 
that everything is "great" when we know it is not. As Jill tells him, "You 
never stop moving, you never go anywhere." 

Towne's constant rewriting during the Shampoo shoot had prevented 
him from working on an epilogue set in the present day that he and 
Beatty felt would provide a fitting ending to the film. An epilogue was 


Being Hal Ashby 

being considered even up to the last day of dubbing, but the ironic (if 
unsurprising) truth was that Beatty's and Towne's ideas for it were com- 
pletely different as the two had radically different visions of the course 
their characters' lives would take. Luckily, for once Beatty's and Towne's 
failure to agree allowed Ashby to get what he wanted, which was to end 
the film as the script had it, with Beatty's George on a hill, watching 
as Jackie, the only woman he had ever truly loved, leaves to run away 
with Lester. It not only appealed to Ashby's romantic sensibility but also 
echoed the final scene of Harold and Maude, where the hero also looks 
down on the world from on high (in that case, the top of a cliff) after 
losing his one true love. 

In short, though Shampoo was not nearly as much of a Hal Ashby 
film as it might have been, it at least had a Hal Ashby ending. "I prefer 
that kind of thing," Ashby said. "I like to leave a little bit of an enigma 
there about exactly what it is because I think that's what makes it not 
a totally down kind of an ending."'*" In both Towne's and Beatty's epi- 
logues, the characters continued on the wrong paths; the way Ashby left 
it, his compassionate ambiguity at least allowed us to feel hope for their 


Glory Bound 

Find out who is causing the Trouble here in this old World — 
remove the Power from their hands — place it in the hands 
of those who aint Greedy — and you can roll over and go to 

— passage underlined by Ashby in his copy of Woody Guth- 
rie's Woody Sez (1975) 

When Oscar time came around, Columbia put Ashby forward as a can- 
didate for Best Director, but he wasn't nominated. Shampoo received 
four Academy Award nominations in all, for Beatty and Towne's script, 
Richard Sylbert's art direction, and Jack Warden's and Lee Grant's per- 
formances, but Grant was the only one to return home with a smile on 
Oscar night. Though Ashby was delighted for Grant, he felt a degree of 
detachment when it came to the film and said, "That's not my picture, 
that's Warren's picture.'" However, he was still relatively happy with 
Shampoo, saying, "There are always things that will gnaw at me, but 
I'm not walking around holding my head in my hands. 

Ironically, the film Ashby was least invested in as a director was his 
biggest hit by far: Shampoo performed astronomically at the box office, 
where its saucy sensationalism rapidly earned it $22 million and made 
it Columbia's most successful film of all time. As a result, Ashby was no 
longer associated with worthy small-scale pictures that underachieved 
financially but came to be seen instead as a director who could deliver 
big films with mass appeal. 

Both his "creative collaborators" on Shampoo were keen to work 
with him again: Robert Towne wanted Ashby to direct Personal Best, a 
script about female athletes that Ashby ultimately convinced Towne to 
direct himself (the film was released in 1982), while Beatty says, "We 
always talked about the things he was doing [and] I was always hoping 



Being Hal Ashby 

we'd do another film together."^ A decade later, Beatty asked Ashby to 
direct Dick Tracy, an offer Ashby turned down because he felt the comic 
book characters were too one-dimensional (Beatty himself wound up 
directing the film in 1990), and right after Shampoo he was trying to 
interest Ashby in another sexually explosive project, an adaptation of 
Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. According to You'll Never Eat Lunch in This 
Town Again, a book by the film's prospective producer, Julia Phillips, 
Beatty wanted to turn Jong's novel into a porn film "with see-through 
dildos and vibrators.'"* (Beatty, however, says Phillips's contentions were 
pure fabrication.) Ashby feared that the movie would be too glib, and 
even though Dyan Cannon wanted to be in it, he passed. His reasons 
for doing so were disputed by those involved: according to Jong, Ashby 
was "driven away by Julia's craziness," while Phillips claimed Ashby got 
tired of Columbia execs "dicking around" and not making up their mind 
whether they wanted him.^ 

It was easy enough to say no to Fear of Flying as offers were now 
flooding in. Producer Richard Roth wanted Ashby to do either Shelter- 
ing Sky (1990) or Havana (1990), Barbra Streisand offered him A Star 
Is Born (1976), he was being considered as a potential director for Net- 
work (1976), and he was linked to The Great Brink's Robbery (1976) 
with Dustin Hoffman, whom Ashby was very keen to work with after 
the two had become friends. Though all these films eventually got made, 
Ashby was not the director of any of them. 

Ultimately, Ashby narrowed the list down to two possible projects: 
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, a novel about a suicidal teenage 
girl in a psychiatric hospital, and Bound for Glory, the memoir by the 
Dust Bowl troubadour Woody Guthrie. Ashby was drawn to Rose Gar- 
den but feared that with Milos Forman's One Flew over the Cuckoo's 
Nest due to come out later that year, it would be seen as an attempt to 
jump on the "funny farm film" bandwagon. The Woody Guthrie project, 
however, had excited him even before he saw the script. 

Ashby had first heard about Bound for Glory during discussions at 
United Artists (UA) about his next project. Published in 1943, the book 
had since spawned numerous unsatisfactory screenplays, mostly writ- 
ten by friends of Guthrie's who were too close to the subject matter to 
have the proper perspective. The film's producers, former UA production 
chief Robert Blumofe and the late Guthrie's agent and friend Harold 

Glory Bound 


Leventhal, brought in Robert Getchell to write a new script. Getchell, 
riding high on the success of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, was a 
young writer with a fresh take on the material and focused his script on 
a four-year period of Guthrie's life (1936-1939) rather than the three 
decades covered in the book. Bound for Glory was first offered to Ar- 
thur Penn — who had directed Guthrie's son, Arlo, in Alice's Restaurant 
(1969) — but Penn turned it down. Getchell and Blumofe had in any case 
wanted Ashby over Penn. With his leftist ideologies and deep compassion 
for his characters, he was a natural choice — and his new cachet in Hol- 
lywood didn't hurt either. "He's always been known as a good director," 
Getchell noted, "and since Shampoo as a good, powerful director."* 

Ashby had long been intrigued by Woody Guthrie, an iconic Ameri- 
can figure who had become much more widely known after Bob Dylan 
(one of Ashby's musical heroes) cited him as a major influence. Guthrie 
was a wanderer, a restless man who had left his wife and children behind 
to travel the country, singing songs and trying to change the world. ("I 
understand Woody Guthrie very well," Ashby admitted.)^ In his writing 
and songs, Guthrie focused on individuals and their struggles, yet he al- 
ways added a potent political subtext, much as Ashby did in his movies. 
"His radicalism stems from his desire to be in contact with the people," 
Ashby said. "I make my films about people."^ 

"He loved that sense of freedom that Woody Guthrie had, never tied 
down to anything," says Mireille "Mimi" Machu, Ashby's girlfriend at 
the time. "He loved to roam."' Ashby had met Machu (also known as 
I. J. Jefferson) at the wrap party for Chinatown (1974), which she had 
been invited to by her ex-boyfriend. Jack Nicholson. When she caught 
sight of Ashby, she thought, "That's the best-looking person in the room," 
and then was delighted to discover that he was the director of Harold 
and Maude, which she had fallen in love with when she saw it in Paris. 
Ashby and Machu hit it off immediately, but he wasn't single at the time, 
and it wasn't until a year later, in early 1975, that the two got together. 
Ashby was in preproduction on Bound for Glory, and they hung out a 
lot when Machu was house-sitting at Nicholson's pad on Mulholland. 
"He had the best sense of humor in this town, and we laughed a lot 
together," says Machu. "He really loved people. He loved to watch game 
shows and see people win. He loved to see people's lives changed for the 
better." Machu was attracted to him because of the desire he brought out 


Being Hal Ashby 

in her to look after him, how he treated her as an equal, how he made 
her feel happy and involved in everything — and because he was "a great 
kisser."^" Nicholson gave their relationship his blessing and even invited 
them to stay with him and Michael Douglas for a week in Oregon, where 
they were filming One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. (During their visit, 
there was an unfortunate incident in which Nicholson's dog. Big Boy, ate 
Ashby 's front teeth when his bridge fell out.) 

Not long after Ashby had committed to do Bound for Glory for UA, 
budgetary concerns became an unexpected factor as the estimated cost 
of $4 million was higher than the studio had expected. For a film with 
no stars attached yet, spending such a figure constituted quite a gamble. 
Ashby brought in Chuck Mulvehill, who had been in the wilderness since 
The Last Detail, and had him work out a budget for Owen Butler as 
well as Bound for Glory so that if the Guthrie film was considered too 
expensive, he'd have a cheaper fallback option. (Mulvehill's return to the 
fold was marked in the film by an in-joke: the pastor whom Woody asks 
about work is standing next to a church sign saying "C. Mulvehill.") In 
the end, however, Mike Medavoy and UA decided that the Guthrie epic, 
the prestige picture, was the film that deserved to be made. 

Ashby was adamant that Bound for Glory would not be a hagiog- 
raphy, but he worried about the reaction from die-hard fans who were 
already skeptical about Hollywood trying to tell Guthrie's story. It was 
the first time that Ashby had dealt with factual material, and he said, 
"Doing a film about a real person drove me crazy at first, trying to be 
faithful, until I decided I should just do a story about the character." 
He nevertheless did extensive research on Guthrie, migrant workers, the 
hobo life, and the Dust Bowl; read John Steinbeck's factual account of 
migrant life in California, Their Blood Is Strong (1938); put up Depres- 
sion-era pictures on his wall; and looked at the material that had been 
collected by Twentieth Century-Fox for John Ford's 1940 adaptation of 
Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939). He also read Guthrie's diary 
and letters from the relevant period and integrated historical incidents 
not mentioned in Bound for Glory into the script as well as some of 
his own memories of traveling around after leaving Ogden. He watched 
films from the 1930s and documentaries about the period and also all 
the Preston Sturges films that he could find. Ashby was a huge fan of 
Sturges — most famous for The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels (both 

Glory Bound 


1941) — a social satirist who focused on the human elements of comedy, 
created brilliantly observed characters, and brought out the best in his 

Ashby worked closely with Robert Getchell, but Robert Downey felt 

that Ashby himself should have written the screenplay. "There wasn't 
anybody in the '70s who made so many great humanist films, yet didn't 
write them," Downey says. "It was as if Ashby had written them, though; 
that was how it felt to him." Downey recalls that Ashby used to show 
him ideas he had written down on scraps of paper and ask, "What should 
I do with all of these ?"'^ 

For the moment, however, Ashby's main concern was finding his 
Guthrie. As he had been a short, wiry man, Dustin Hoffman and Jack 
Nicholson were obvious choices, but Nicholson opted to make The Mis- 
souri Breaks (1976) with Marlon Brando instead, and Hoffman, a dedi- 
cated method actor, demanded six months to learn the guitar. Robert 
DeNiro and Al Pacino were considered, but both had already commit- 
ted to other projects. Johnny Cash, Kris Kristoffersen, Glen Campbell, 
James Taylor, Art Garfunkel, and Arlo Guthrie all expressed interest in 
playing the role, but Ashby was looking for an actor, not a musician. 
(Bob Dylan was sent the script as a courtesy; he declined the part but 
offered to direct the film.) 

David Carradine, then best known for the Kung Fu television series, 
heard about Bound for Glory from Barbara Seagull Hershey, his ex-wife, 
and immediately called his manager to get an audition. Ashby initially 
laughed at the idea, but when Carradine's manager insisted, "David is 
Woody Guthrie!" and explained he had long coveted the role, he gave 
him a chance. "Hal didn't want me," says Carradine, "but I went in and 
knocked him flat.'"^ Carradine turned up with his guitar and played 
songs and told stories and jokes for the whole afternoon. 

Much as Ashby liked Carradine, he looked nothing like Guthrie and 
was far too tall. "He told me that if I were six years younger and six 
inches shorter, he would hire me right on the spot," Carradine recalls 
of his second meeting with Ashby. "I told him I'd do the part with my 
knees bent."^'' Six weeks after their first meeting, Ashby had offered the 
role to Richard Dreyfuss, but Dreyfuss had asked for more money; and 
the folk singer Tim Buckley, whom director Henry Jaglom had suggested 


Being Hal Ashby 

to Ashby, had tragically died of a drug overdose. So Ashby called in 
Carradine and had Haskell Wexler shoot a screen test. Ashby had moved 
from Appian Way (after the house had become too full of editing equip- 
ment) out to Malibu Colony and now lived with Machu and Sean, her 
ten-year-old son by Sonny Bono, right on the beach. Carradine also lived 
in Malibu and used to run along the beach past Ashby's house every day, 
refusing to let Ashby forget him. "One time he leaned out the window 
and said, 'Hey, why don't you come in and say hello.'"' Carradine re- 
calls. "I hung out with him a lot as a result, and I realized, 'If I just keep 
running past Hal's house, I'll get the part.'"^^ Ashby later recalled it was 
Warren Beatty who pointed out that Carradine had "the right 'I don't 
give a fuck' attitude" that he was looking for.'** Ashby knew that he was 
not making a documentary, that nobody would look like Guthrie and 
be able to act and sing, and that Carradine having the spirit of Woody 
Guthrie was more than enough. 

Medavoy and the other UA brass were far from convinced as Car- 
radine was a television actor with a reputation for being difficult to work 
with and not the big name they were hoping for. Out of respect for 
Ashby, they agreed to at least look at Carradine's screen test; as Getchell 
puts it, they "came to jeer and stayed to cheer."^^ Apparently, after only 
thirty seconds of the test, Ashby's decision to cast Carradine was fully 

Ashby wanted Bound for Glory to be as authentic as possible, so he 
sent Carradine off to Oklahoma, where Guthrie had grown up, to work 
on his Okie accent and learn to play the fiddle. To further the authentic- 
ity, Ashby wanted unknown faces in other roles: character actor Ronny 
Cox was hired to play Guthrie's sidekick, Ozark Bule (a composite of 
a number of Guthrie's friends, including Will Geer), and Ashby auda- 
ciously gave acclaimed Broadway actress Melinda Dillon her film debut 
in a dual role, playing both Guthrie's wife, Mary, and singer Memphis 
Sue. He also brought in Randy Quaid at the last minute to play union 
rep Luther Johnson, another composite character. 

Unlike on Shampoo, Ashby was now surrounded by friends. Not 
only was Mulvehill back as his production manager, but he had both 
Wexlers, Haskell and his son Jeff, working on the film. Ashby had 
wanted Jeff as his sound mixer on The Last Detail and Shampoo, but 
union problems had twice prevented it. This time, Ashby made a stand 
and insisted that Jeff work for him, union rules or no. In the end, Ashby 

Glory Bound 


agreed that a union sound mixer would be employed as well, as long as 
Jeff did the work. For Haskell and Hal, it was the first time they had 
worked together since Ashby had become a director, and it was particu- 
larly fitting that this should be the film that reunited them: not only had 
Haskell previously been asked to direct Bound for Glory, but he had also 
known Guthrie when they were both in the merchant marine. Bob Jones 
would edit, but that wasn't his only role on the film, as he had recently 
started writing as well. He had given Ashby an original treatment; Ashby 
didn't particularly like it, but he nevertheless employed Jones to write an 
adaptation of Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, a property he had 
just acquired. Impressed with his script, Ashby asked him to help with 
rewrites on Bound for Glory on top of his editing duties. 

Possibly the most crucial member of Ashby's crew on Bound for 
Glory was production designer Mike Haller. On a period piece like this, 
there was a huge amount of work to be done, beginning with finding the 
right locations. Haller drove thousands of miles through Texas, Okla- 
homa, New Mexico, and Arizona, looking for dusty, barren landscapes, 
but found that places like Pampa, Texas, where Guthrie had lived in the 
1930s, were now far too green and modern. Finally, Haller remembered 
visiting an area near Sacramento, California, that had the right sparse 
look and found the towns of Stockton and Isleton, which would become 
the film's bases for the remainder of the year. 

In mid-August 1975, Ashby began shooting in Stockton, the very 
place where William Wyler had shot The Big Country almost twenty 
years earlier. The locations seemed trapped in time and were perfect for 
Bound for Glory. The tendency of period films was not to have skyline 
shots, as this required locations that were not blighted by modern build- 
ings, telephone antennas, or television aerials, but Ashby had told Haller 
that he didn't want shots angled downward. "I wanted everything to be 
at eye-level," said Ashby. " [But] it's difficult to say, 'Let's go outside and 
start shooting 1937.'"!'* 

The film's look was also crucial in evoking the feel of the period. 
Ashby, Haller, and Haskell Wexler had initially conceived Bound for 
Glory as a black-and-white film because of all the photos of the De- 
pression that they had surrounded themselves with. But as this was 
commercially unfeasible, they decided instead on a bleached-out, mono- 
chromatic look that still had the warmth and life of color. Haller and 
Wexler set about getting rid of all strong, saturated hues: blue jeans and 


Being Hal Ashby 

overalls had to be hand-dyed gray, painters were on hand at all times to 
tone down the colors of billboards or signs, and Fuller's earth, rubbish, 
and tumbleweed were blown into shots to give the requisite dusty look. 

Wexler infuriated directors with his slow pace and headstrong at- 
titude, yet Ashby loved working side by side with his friend. "Haskell's 
crazy," he said affectionately. "He likes to take a lot of chances." Wexler 
was used to being creatively inhibited by his directors, but Ashby told 
him, "All you have to do is tell me that you're going to try something. I'm 
not going to jump up and down. If it works, great, and if it doesn't work 
it doesn't work."'' Wexler had recently shot a commercial with Garrett 
Brown, the cameraman who had developed the Steadicam, a revolution- 
ary device that stopped the camera from shaking, allowing for shots that 
were previously inconceivable. When Wexler mentioned Brown's inven- 
tion, Ashby immediately said, "Sure, do you wanna try that?"^° 

The Steadicam was used for a number of shots in the film, the most 
memorable of which was in the migrant camp Mike Haller built in Is- 
leton, filled with nine hundred extras. The camera swooped down on 
a crane and then followed Carradine through an endless crowd of mi- 
grants when it reached ground level. On the very first attempt, the cam- 
era moved slowly and elegantly, and the take continued for so long that 
one of the extras thought it must be over and started telling Carradine 
about a car he was trying to sell. "Say, buddy, lemme tell you bout that 
Plymouth . . . ," he began. Carradine ignored him, but he persisted, "No, 
really, what we talked about, I think I can get it for you."^^ Ashby kept 
filming, hoping the extra would stop, but finally called "Cut!" The take 
had to be scrapped, but after three more, he got one that was perfect. 
"Just watching it was some kind of trip," he said.^^ When the shot was 
screened at dailies two days later, it got a standing ovation. 

A week or so into September, Ashby was already a few days behind 
schedule. The company was moving around constantly, locations were 

awash with extras who were usually sitting around waiting, and, ac- 
cording to Blumofe, the whole operation was "like planning a war."^^ It 
certainly was a battle for Ashby, who had a large budget and a cast and 
crew of almost unprecedented size; the pressure of this, coupled with 
the huge physical strain of shooting, was taking its toll on him. "I got 
depressed when I found we'd been shooting for 39 days and had covered 
14 pages of the script," he said. "We made up time later when every 

Glory Bound 


one felt good about the film. But we did go over the budget and I had a 


Ashby's biggest headache was the trains. After the problems on The 
Last Detail, he swore he would never work with trains again, but his 
excitement about Bound for Glory had made him forget all that. Guth- 
rie was well known for riding the rails, so the trains were an integral 
part of his character. Haller, another veteran of The Last Detail, tried 
to preempt any problems by studying freight train schedules. However, 
he recalled, "We'd ... sit there with our print-outs thinking everything 
was fine . . . and the expected train just wouldn't be there. A main-liner 
would show up instead . . . and our freight train would chug in three 
hours late and backwards. We'd lose half a day in shooting before it 
could be turned around. "^^ On one occasion, while they were waiting 
to get a shot of a train approaching, it came at them from the opposite 
direction. Rather than just turning the camera around, Wexler switched 
it off. "Bob Downey could have made a whole film on what you've just 
cost us," Ashby told him.^* It was no exaggeration: the shoot was costing 
up to $50,000 a day, and over the course of filming many days were lost 
because of train problems. 

Ashby was fortunate, however, not to lose his leading man to the 
trains. Carradine, who was extremely fit after his martial arts training 
on Kung Fu, was predominantly doing his own stunts in the film. He 
had ridden the rails himself as a young man, so when he jumped on to 
the train, Ashby said, "It looks too easy." 

"OK," replied Carradine, "I'll try and make it look harder." 

This time, Carradine reached out and pretended he couldn't quite 
keep up with the freight carriage, but by mistake brushed the rail with 
his hand, throwing himself off balance. "It just pulled me right off 
my feet and I sort of went under the train, actually," says Carradine. 
"There's a close-up shot of it where you see my head going down, and 
the moment it goes down the truck goes right over it, and it would have 
taken my head right off." 

Seeing the near-fatal effect of his request, an ashen Ashby said, "OK, 
that's it, no more stunts. You can't do your own stunts anymore." 

"Hal, it's already happened," Carradine retorted calmly, adding 
with a smile, "and anyway, it's your fault! "^^ 

Recalling his problems with the trains, Ashby said, "I thought I would 
go crazy."^^ The film was getting further and further behind schedule. 


Being Hal Ashby 

and the trains and the huge crowd scenes left Ashby stressed and ex- 
hausted. Possibly to keep his energy up, he started to use cocaine. Once, 
when Carradine was in Ashby's trailer, he turned over a copy of the Los 
Angeles Times and found several lines of the drug. 

"Do you do a lot of this stuff?" asked Carradine. 

"As much as I can," Ashby replied.^' 

Unfortunately, the coke only increased Ashby's stress and gave him 
unpredictable mood swings. Haskell Wexler's slow pace was just one of 
numerous factors that had put the film so far behind schedule, but in his 
unstable mind frame Ashby decided to sack him and refused to give a 
reason. "Then he started to scream and stomp," says Wexler. "I went to 
Hal and I said, 'You're not the Hal Ashby I love and respect. You're the 
Hal Ashby who's doing something to himself up his nose, and I'm not 
going to accept it.' I really chewed him off for being a doper."^° The fight 
was left unresolved that night, but despite being fired, Wexler turned up 
the next morning, and both acted like nothing had happened. 

Ashby recognized that his cocaine use was a problem and took 
steps to remedy the situation. "I started using coke in 1975, at the point 
when it became epidemic in Hollywood," Ashby said a few years later. 
"I stopped pretty quickly. I was making Bound for Glory and I became 
short-tempered. I'd get cross with Haskell Wexler for things that weren't 
his fault. It's not my nature to be curt and quick-tempered. I saw what 
was happening and stopped using it."^' 

"We all had our dark periods on drugs," says Robert Downey. "And 
nobody was telling us to be careful with the stuff." However, Ashby's 
real drug of choice, and the only one he used regularly, was not coke but 
weed. "I couldn't keep up with him on marijuana," Downey says. "Hal 
would smoke marijuana like it was a cigarette — there was a permanent 
crease in his lip." Downey, himself known for his hedonism, was smok- 
ing grass with Ashby in Malibu Colony one night when Ashby said, 
"Let's go down to the water." 

"I can't even leave my chair," said Downey, paralyzed by the pot. 

"Do you want me to go down there," offered Ashby, considerately, 
"and I'll tell you what happens.' "^^ 

Despite his reputation for being difficult, Carradine was on his best 
behavior during Bound for Glory and later called Ashby the best direc- 

Glory Bound 


tor he had ever worked with. Still reeling from his recent breakup with 
Barbara Hershey, at the start of filming he was, by his own account, 
"virtually suicidal" but felt that he "should finish this great film before 
. . . [doing] anything about it, and then see."^^ His moods were unpre- 
dictable, and he could go from being charming and talkative to being 
nonverbal for days on end. Ashby knew that Carradine related to Woody 
enough not to need too much guidance but still found ways to support 
his actor. "Hal would be right beside the camera," says Carradine, "and 
I used to actually play my dialogue to him rather than to whoever I was 
talking to because I'd get this feedback from him. Hal's basic element 
in his directing was that he would watch while you were working and 
seemed to be looking at you like you were an absolutely phenomenal 
actor, like 'God, that's so great.' And that made you feel like it was, and 
it moved you up a notch. "^'^ 

To make him feel fully included in the filmmaking process, Ashby 
invited Carradine to watch the rushes with him every day. On top of the 
large amount of film Ashby was shooting, there was, Carradine says, 
"all this extra footage that Haskell would shoot every day because he'd 
go out and shoot with his own camera and shoot trains going by and 
migrant workers and stuff like that, and there was lots of it." With 6 
A.M. Starts most days, Carradine decided one night that he'd had enough 
and was getting up to go when he heard Ashby's voice behind him gently 
say, "Oh, givin' up, are you.'" "So I sat through just about three hours of 
dailies every night for nineteen weeks," says Carradine, "and saw every 
foot of film that was shot."^^ 

Only once, when some migrant workers marched past, did Carradine 
play to his rebellious image. "David started marching with them," Ashby 
recalled. "By the time we found him, he was two miles away; and he had 
held up shooting for three hours."^* Blumofe was angry with Carradine, 
whose stunt had cost them time and money. 

"Aw, come on," Carradine said. "It's what Woody would have 

Blumofe let a smile creep across his face because it was exactly what 
Guthrie would have done. Many of Guthrie's living relatives, including 
his first two wives, Mary and Marjorie, and most of his children, vis- 
ited the set during filming and expressed their approval of how the film 
was being made. Carradine, whom they had felt was unusual casting, 


Being Hal Ashby 

received the ultimate compliment when Guthrie's son Joady declared, 
"He's got Woody's vibes. Guthrie collaborator Pete Seeger also came 
to see filming and was impressed "by Ashby 's attention to detail and 
determination to get the authentic picture."^' 

In December, the company returned home to Los Angeles for the 
final weeks of filming, but it was early January 1976 before it wrapped, 
almost six weeks later than scheduled: the shoot had lasted nearly five 
months, and the budget had ballooned from $4.4 to $7.6 million. Ashby 
was relieved filming was over but continued to suffer from the rigors 
of the shoot. In AUensworth, there had been a disastrous attempt to 
re-create a dust storm (one of the film's crucial set pieces) by blowing 
dust and dirt through metal tubes. Though during the storm Woody 
declares, "A little dust won't hurt," everyone became ill, coughing and 
spluttering, and Ashby got into another fight with Haskell Wexler when 
the cinematographer added the potentially harmful Fuller's earth to the 
mixture to give the dust the right color. Ashby, whose lungs were weak 
from years of smoking, suffered the most. He became asthmatic from 
the dust and developed a harsh, rasping cough and then pneumonia; 
even after the film had wrapped, the cough refused to go away. 

Ashby always shot a lot of film, but in postproduction he discovered 
that he had shot twice as much as usual, close to 150 hours of footage. The 
house up on Appian Way was so full of film that Ashby had to move his 
music editor into the garage in order to give everyone else room to work. 

As Bob Jones worked on a first cut, Ashby turned his mind to future 
projects. High on his list was The Hawkline Monster, a gothic Western 
by the cult author Richard Brautigan, for which Brautigan himself had 
written a treatment at Ashby's request. Also in play was Jones's script 
of Henderson the Rain King. Ashby put the idea of doing Henderson 
to Mike Medavoy, who told him, "As much as I think this is terrific 
material, I'm afraid of it as a movie. I'd like to see it but I'm afraid I 
don't think we would want to make it.'"*" Ashby had planned to have 
Jack Nicholson play Henderson, the middle-aged American who travels 
to Africa, and he was also in the frame for Hawkline, a bizarre story 
about two gunmen hired by enigmatic identical twin sisters to kill the 
"monster" in their cellar. In early 1976, Ashby announced that he would 
shoot Hawkline, but not until the following summer, as he was not yet 
happy with Brautigan's script. 

Glory Bound 


When Ashby finally decided on a follow-up to Bound for Glory, it 
surprised everybody. MGM — which at the time was still suing Ashby 
for quitting Three Cornered Circle — had offered him an adaptation of 
Mildred Cram's whimsical novella Forever, a property the studio had 
been trying to make since 1940. Ashby could have a period of recu- 
peration as filming would begin in the spring of 1977, but apart from 
this — and the fact that he would be paid $350,000 for his directorial 
duties, almost double his salary on Bound for Glory — there was little 
appealing about either the deal or the film itself. As on Three Cornered 
Circle, MGM would have approval over Ashby's casting, and Forever, a 
fifty-eight-page story of love and reincarnation, was infamous for being 
so insubstantial that it was nigh impossible to adapt for the screen. It 
was almost devoid of dialogue and so dated that only the basic concept 
could have survived in a credible film. Predictably, Ashby pulled out of 
the deal. 

He had been tempted away by Straight Time, which Dustin Hoff- 
man wanted him to direct. Hoffman and Ashby were friends and were 
always on the lookout for possible collaborations. "He was an emotional 
creature; he worked with what moved him. We were kin," says Hoff- 
man.''^ Straight Time was a semiautobiographical novel by ex-con Ed- 
ward Bunker (who later played Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs [1992]) that 
Hoffman had bought back in 1972. He had initially planned to direct 
as well as act, but at the last minute thought better of it, so Ashby was 
drafted, bringing Mike Haller and Bob Jones with him. 

However, Ashby's cough from the dust storm worsened until he 
had to be hospitalized. With production imminent. First Artists, the 
company bankrolling Straight Time, refused to wait for Ashby to re- 
cover. (The film was eventually directed by Ulu Grosbard and released 
in 1978.) Though this was a blow, Ashby's health concerns were much 
graver as the doctors feared he had lung cancer. It was a huge scare for 
Ashby, who stopped smoking his Shermans and started fasting to purify 
his system. Fortunately, his cough was not a symptom of cancer but one 
of dust inhalation. He was put on medication, which he took for years 

The scare also coincided with the end of his relationship with Ma- 
chu. He was jealous of her exes, particularly Sonny Bono, and found it 
difficult having Sean around, whom he said was a constant reminder of 


Being Hal Ashby 

her former lover. "Hal wasn't meant to live with everyone," says Machu. 
"He didn't know how to deal with kids. We were crazy about each other, 
but we had different needs." They began having screaming fights, and on 
one occasion, Machu threw an ashtray at Ashby's big Advent television, 
putting a dent in it. For Ashby, who loved his technological gadgets, this 
was the last straw. He told Machu it was over and shouted, "You leave!" 
"No, you leave!" Machu screamed back. 

As Machu was recovering from a recent operation, Ashby agreed 
to move out and let her stay until Sean's school term had ended. His 
next-door neighbor, director John Frankenheimer, tried to keep tabs on 
her for Ashby, who was worried about what she might do. Ashby offered 
Machu a Mercedes, a trademark gift he gave to departing exes. "The 
Mercedes was the kiss of death for a relationship," says Haskell Wexler. 
"I would always ask him, 'Did she get a 350 or a 312?""'^ Machu, how- 
ever, turned down the car and instead took with her only some ridged 
dishes, which she knew Ashby didn't want as he had complained that one 
couldn't eat pancakes off them. In the end, she left earlier than agreed 
when Ashby offered her $1,000 as an incentive; his business manager, 
Larry Reynolds, escorted her off the premises, ensuring she left without 
harming Ashby's prized possessions, his typewriter and baby grand 
piano. Though Machu admits the breakup was "not very pleasant," the 
two stayed friends and later worked together at Lorimar, where Ashby 
employed her as an editorial consultant and script reader."*^ 

The split was a recognizable symptom of Ashby's postproduction 
depression. "He would get into terrible funks, usually at the end of a pic- 
ture," says Chuck Mulvehill. "He was losing the film, a thing he could 
control. Then he would be in the bedroom for weeks at a time. He would 
only come out at night when he went tomcatting.'"*"* As one woman left, 
another would always arrive; during the summer of 1976, he was out 
with Buddy Joe Hooker, the stuntman on all his movies, when they met 
Dianne Schroeder, a friend of Hooker's. "He was in a truck with Buddy 
Joe in a rural area of Agoura," Dianne recalls. "They were coming off 
a beekeeper's property, and he had fallen in a creek! And when I was 
introduced to him, he acted like he wasn't wet at all. I wish I'd had my 
camera — it was hilarious.'"*^ Later, Ashby, Hooker, and Schroeder all 
went out to dinner together, and she heard about Ashby's health prob- 
lems. As she had a background in health and fitness, Schroeder offered 

Glory Bound 


to help Ashby, and they established a working relationship that soon 
developed into something more. 

Though a number of his friends described her as the only woman 
who ever understood Ashby, Schroeder maintains that while her rela- 
tionship with him did have a romantic element to it, she was never one 
of his long line of girlfriends. "We had an extremely close, loving friend- 
ship, and I had complete respect for him as a person and an artist," 
she says. "I am very proud to have known him, that there was mutual 
respect and mutual love. If you look at the list of women he was with, or 
had affairs with, I do not feel I am part of that list. There was romance 
involved, but I feel it was somewhat of a guarded relationship because I 
was much younger, and he felt protective of me. The main part of it was 

After their romance ended, Schroeder and Ashby nevertheless re- 
mained extremely close. "Hal allowed people to keep on loving him 
after a love affair was over," Schroeder continues. "He was not into 
loving in a superficial way. On a spiritual level, he was very sensitive, 
enlightened, and kind. He knew who really cared about him, and he let 
them be in his life."'*'' 

David Carradine says the four-hour first cut of Bound for Glory was 
the best version of the film. However, releasing it in that form would 
have been commercial suicide and was never considered by either Ashby 
or UA. Throughout the summer, Ashby screened the film for actors, 
journalists, studio execs, and friends and fine-tuned the cut for the next 
screening on the basis of their reactions. The feedback was hugely posi- 
tive, and many people, including the Guthrie family themselves, were 
overwhelmed by the film and its rousing evocation of Guthrie and a 
bygone America. Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, and Jeff Bridges were all huge 
fans, and Jack Nicholson attended almost all the screenings and gave 
Ashby helpful suggestions for cuts. Bound for Glory was supposed to 
premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September, but Ashby decided 
the film still wasn't ready to be seen by a paying audience, stressing that it 
was "a work print" that "still needs polish."'*^ By October, he had a 135- 
minute version that he was pleased with, but in an unprecedented move, 
Mike Medavoy requested that the film be made longer and that certain 
scenes he had enjoyed in earlier versions be reinstated. Ashby — who had 


Being Hal Ashby 

told Carradine previously, "If I shorten it up, maybe an extra hundred 
thousand people will see it" — was happy to oblige him but wondered 
what impact this would have on the film's box-office success.'" 

Bound for Glory was the biggest film of Ashby's career so far, in terms 
of length, budget, scope, and ambition, a period epic in the great Hol- 
lywood tradition. For a filmmaker who had previously focused on the 
present and the recent past, Ashby displayed an uncanny ability to bring 
the past to life. Yet this skill arose from already-apparent strengths: at- 
tention to detail, an affectionate understanding of his characters, and 
an ability to elicit vivid performances from his actors. A paean to the 
common man and his struggle, the film was just as relevant to 1976 and 
the struggles of Cesar Chavez as it was to the times it portrayed. Though 
it had gone hugely over budget, every dollar spent could be seen up on 
the screen: Haskell Wexler's cinematography looked stunning, the foot- 
age of the migrants, capturing their humanity in simple, revealing shots, 
adding greatly to the emotional impact of the film; and Mike Haller's 
work matched, if not eclipsed, Wexler's achievements as the film is filled 
with period cars, trucks, shops, houses, and whole towns (including the 
migrant camp Haller built) that combine to genuinely evoke the 1930s. 

For Ashby, Bound for Glory was also a film with great personal 
meaning. At the start of the film, one of Woody's friends describes Cali- 
fornia as a place where seeds will sprout the day after they have been 
planted, a promised land that has "everything a man needs." This is how 
Ashby saw California when he himself was on the road, struggling to get 
by, and the twenty-odd years he had spent there since had not shaken his 
idealistic belief that this was the only place to be. 

"If I feel close to any of my screen characters," Ashby said later, 
"it's Woody Guthrie in Bound for Glory. We're alike and I put all my 
own remembrances in that film — of being out of work, of living off a 
Powerhouse candy bar for three days, of feeling more responsibility to 
your work than your family."'" 

Writing about Bound for Glory just before its release, the critic Jo- 
seph McBride called it "a majestic film, the most ambitious film made 
in the United States since The Godfather Part II, and one of those rare 
pictures which are made with lavish resources, meticulous care, and 
concern for epic breadth that characterize the way the great Hollywood 

Glory Bound 


movies used to be made."" UA was equally excited, and opened the film 
in early December in light of its significant Oscar potential. It received an 
excellent critical reaction: the praise for Ashby and Wexler was almost 
universal, and Carradine, who appears in every scene in the film, was 
also highly lauded, his Kung Fu tag long forgotten. The film's detractors 
all had semi-informed ideas of what Bound for Glory should have been, 
of how Woody Guthrie should have been depicted. "I learned a long 
time ago," Ashby said, "that anybody who really knows a lot about 
Woody Guthrie, I'll never make it for them, I cannot win."'^ 

But in a more significant sense, Ashby had won. While Shampoo 
had changed the way he was perceived by Hollywood, Bound for Glory 
altered the way critics looked at him. "Ashby interests me," wrote Village 
Voice critic and auteur theory proponent Andrew Sarris, "but I have not 
completely figured out his style."" Ashby had previously been viewed 
by many critics as a journeyman director and certainly not an auteur, 
but Bound for Glory forced a reappraisal of his career, and suddenly he 
was being compared to the men he had served his apprenticeship under, 
William Wyler and George Stevens. Asked about what connected his 
films, Ashby said, "There's no story line or anything like that running 
through my pictures, but I try to do films that deal with human rela- 
tions, with people relating to one another."^'' McBride, however, noticed 
the confused young (and increasingly not-so-young) men who were the 
protagonists of his films, observing "a strong sense in all five [of Ashby's] 
films of the necessity to break through a stifling code of traditional mo- 
rality into a more open and spontaneous way of dealing with the world's 
hypocrisy and injustice."^' It seemed that, finally, Ashby was starting to 
get the recognition he deserved. 


Coming Home 

Once I was a soldier 

And I fought on foreign sands for you 

Once I was a hunter 

And I brought home fresh meat for you 

Once I was a lover 

And I searched behind your eyes for you 

And soon there'll be another 

To tell you I was just a lie 

—Tim Buckley, "Once I Was" (1967) 

He was a one-of-a-kinder. The most creatively disorganized 
director I've ever worked for. Hal's knack was to create orga- 
nized mayhem. I mean, he thought it out, but he waited for 


— Bruce Dern 

Around the same period that Ashby cut his ties with Straight Time, 
director John Schlesinger pulled out of Coming Home. The film had 
been in the works since 1973, when Jane Fonda, inspired by a meet- 
ing with Ron Kovic, author of Born on the Fourth of July, had asked 
her friend Nancy Dowd to write a script about a paraplegic Vietnam 
veteran. When Dowd's script was deemed unfilmable, the creative team 
behind Midnight Cowboy (1969) — writer Waldo Salt, producer Jerome 
Hellman, and director Schlesinger — came on board and secured a devel- 
opment deal at United Artists (UA). Hellman and Salt did huge amounts 
of research to create a realistic picture of a paraplegic vet's life, but only 
ten days after Salt delivered his script, Schlesinger announced he wasn't 
going to direct the film. "The exact way he expressed it," says Hellman, 
"was that as a 'baroque English faggot,' he wasn't the right person to 


Coming Home 


sit in the VA [Veterans Administration] hospital and talk to these guys 
about their urine bags."' 

Schlesinger felt he was too much of an outsider to comment on the 
Vietnam War and its impact, and Hellman and Fonda realized they 
needed a counterculture director. Ashby was an obvious choice. Fonda 
knew him from political fund-raisers, and in 1973 Hellman had written 
him a fan letter praising The Last Detail's "simplicity, directness and . . . 
absence of tricks."^ Bob Rafelson was also considered for the job, but 
after Salt, Fonda, and Hellman had spoken to both, they agreed Ashby 
was the clear choice. 

Ashby quickly made the film his own by hiring Chuck Mulvehill, 
Mike Haller, and Jeff and Haskell Wexler (who had made a Vietnam 
documentary. Introduction to the Enemy [1974], with Fonda) and 
casting the major roles. UA, under Mike Medavoy, was keen to offset 
the film's risky subject matter and improve its box-office prospects by 
casting a big-name actor as the paraplegic, Luke Martin. Medavoy sug- 
gested Sylvester Stallone (Hollywood's newest star after the phenomenal 
success of Rocky [1976]) or Al Pacino, but Ashby put forward Jack Nich- 
olson, saying, "It would be very hard for me to imagine any male role 
that he couldn't do." Fonda, who was producing the film, was to play 
Sally Hyde, the soldier's wife who falls for Luke, and Jon Voight and 
Bruce Dern were up for the part of her hawkish husband, Bob. Voight 
approached Ashby and told him, "Believe me, I will do anything in this 
picture. I would be glad to play the captain, but I would prefer Luke."^ 
When Nicholson decided that, after One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, 
he didn't want to spend any more time in claustrophobic hospitals, Ashby 
cast Voight as Luke, and Dern as Bob Hyde. 

Voight seemed perfect for the part as he not only felt a strong affinity 
for the character but also had been an active anti-Vietnam campaigner. 
But Medavoy, who already had major reservations about the project, 
was not pleased with the choice and told Ashby outright: "No way. . . . 
The man has no sex appeal." He even offered to add a million dollars 
to the budget so that they could get a bona fide star. Ashby, backed by 
both Hellman (whose previous film with Voight had been the hugely suc- 
cessful Midnight Cowboy) and Fonda, stood strong. "Unfortunately," 
Ashby recalled, "I'd already made up my mind."'' 

One of the reasons Ashby backed Voight so strongly was his clear 


Being Hal Ashby 

dedication to the role. Even before he was given the part of Luke, he 
started doing research and talking to vets, and as soon as he was cast, 
he bought a wheelchair and joined the Long Beach Raiders wheelchair 
basketball team, the paraplegics not only teaching him to play but also 
becoming his close friends. After weeks of hanging out with them and 
discussing every conceivable aspect of their lives, he almost believed he 
was a paraplegic too. If one of his feet fell off his wheelchair, he would 
reach down with his hands and put it back up again. In interviews, he 
referred to the paraplegics used as extras in Coming Home as "the other 
paras," as if he were one of them.' He attended the cast party in a wheel- 
chair and, even after shooting had finished, kept one at his house in case 
the other paras came round and wanted to shoot hoops with him like 
old times. 

Ashby had enjoyed the research process on Bound for Glory im- 
mensely and, with Dianne Schroeder as his research assistant, set about 
learning all he could about Vietnam and America in the late 1960s. 
Schroeder put together eleven huge volumes of articles on Vietnam and 
paraplegia, along with hundreds of photos of 'Nam soldiers, underground 
antiwar publications, and transcripts of Vietnam documentaries. Coming 
Home, like Shampoo, was set in 1968, and Ashby took the opportunity 
to revisit all the music he had not been allowed to use in Beatty's film. 
He had Schroeder put every song he liked from the latter period of the 
decade onto six cassettes and then played the tapes around the clock. He 
had photographs of Vietnam pinned up on the walls of his work room 
and borrowed a number of films from the Vietnam Veterans against the 
War. The idea was "to be like a sponge and absorb everything.'"" 

Another part of Ashby's research involved shooting "rap sessions" 
at Jon Voight's house, where paraplegics talked about everything from 
first dates to their children to their darkest moments. He ended up with 
about eleven hours of footage and was so taken with it that at one stage 
he planned to insert parts of it into the fictional narrative of Coming 

During much of the Vietnam War, Ashby had been obsessively in- 
volved in his work (and distracted by his tumultuous private life), and 
he now felt guilty for not having participated sufficiently in the antiwar 
movement. "I was active in as many things as I was able to deal with," he 
reflected, "none of them being enough."^ Ashby declared that America, 

Coming Home 


and Hollywood, "should not forget that period in our history, that we 
cannot just say life goes on."** However, he also realized that Coming 
Home could be more than simply an indictment of the Vietnam War and 
decry the very principle of war itself. 

With Bound for Glory all but finished, Ashby began working with 
Salt and Hellman on a rewrite of Coming Home, tailoring it to his own 
sensibilities. (Haskell Wexler had expressed concern over Salt's script, 
telling Ashby he had "made great films out of lousy scripts before" but 
was worried about a script that he felt was "dependent on cheap sex" 
and "could only work if there were a true mature love developed be- 
tween Luke and Sally.")' Hellman was a neighbor of Ashby's in Malibu 
Colony, and the three met daily at Hellman's house, but Salt, who was 
used to collaborating with Schlesinger, proved difficult to work with. 
Progress was painfully slow, and with six weeks to go before the film's 
start date, they had only thirty-seven pages of the new script. One day in 
November, Salt left a meeting early, saying he wasn't feeling well. Ashby 
and Hellman worked on alone, and an hour later they received a call to 
say that while driving home. Salt had suffered a massive coronary. 

Fonda, who had long been in the wilderness after acquiring her 
"Hanoi Jane" tag, was a hot property in Hollywood once again and 
was filming Coming Home in the brief interval between Ted Kotcheff's 
Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) and Alan J. Pakula's Comes a Horse- 
man (1978). This meant that Ashby had to be ready to start shooting at 
the beginning of January. Ashby needed a writer to finish the shooting 
script, but the problem as he saw it was that writers tended to bring with 
them oversized egos and that he "ran the very real risk of having the 
baby thrown out with the bathwater."^" 

The answer was to get a writer who wasn't a writer: Bob Jones. 
Ashby had found his creative contributions on Bound for Glory very 
helpful, and he was a quick, inventive thinker who had, in Hellman's 
words, "an editor's eye and a writer's talent."^^ All Salt's notes on plot 
ideas, biographical studies of the characters, transcripts of countless 
interviews, notes on paraplegia, and early drafts and redrafts of the 
screenplay — a huge mountain of paper — were passed on to Jones so that 
he could finish what Salt had started. 

"I miss you all very much and ache to be part of this important and 
final preparatory period," Fonda wrote to her Coming Home colleagues. 


Being Hal Ashby 

"But I'll arrive in fine shape and am already raring to go. I have very 
good feelings about the working situation. You have all braved some 
heavy storms with such equanimity."^^ What she didn't know was that, 
despite the positive noises Hellman was making to calm a concerned 
UA, they were still a very long way from having a finished script. When 
the truth came out, she admitted to wondering "if, in the face of such 
setbacks, victory could be pulled from the jaws of defeat.'"' 

Just before shooting began, she asked Ashby, "Have you ever started 
a film knowing no more about what we're going to do than this?" 

"No," he replied. 

She looked at him and said simply, "I hope it works."" 

Though Fonda was nervous, Ashby was undaunted. Getting input 
from everyone and doing it all on the fly was his chosen working method 
anyway. As Hellman said, "He's a very fluid filmmaker. He's a man who 
is always very open to discovery, to surprise. He loves that spontaneous 
part of the process."^' Ashby went so far as to say the film might even 
benefit from not being rigidly preplanned: "I felt that because we're deal- 
ing with personal relationships in the film, the very fact that we were in 
limbo in certain areas would enhance it — we would be able to get deeper 
into the characters by not having the scenes worked out in advance; 
we might even discover things we wouldn't normally look for. So I felt 
pretty good about that, even though I knew it was going to be hard.""" 

On January 3, 1977, five weeks after Salt's heart attack, filming be- 
gan. "We started shooting before we were ready," Ashby recalled. "We 
had three or four scripts, an ending that didn't work and the first 30 or 
40 pages weren't any good.'"" To make matters worse, UA, whose bud- 
get for the film had already nearly doubled from $2.5 to $4.85 million, 
was getting jumpy. Because of the film's controversial themes, the studio 
had already offset the risk by putting Ashby and the other principal cast 
and crew members on deferred salaries, paying them a lesser fee plus a 
percentage of the film's profits. If the film was a box-office success, they 
would be rich, but if it bombed, they'd get 3 percent of nothing. 

Principal photography began with a composite of Salt's and Jones's 
work acting as the shooting script, but two days in Ashby realized it 
wasn't working. "I saw where Jon was coming from with his character," 
he explained, "so I just threw the first script out."^* Voight's intense 
connection with his character became the guiding influence, and Ashby 

Coming Home 


let him do whatever felt right. Voight was grounded by the presence of 
the fifty paraplegics on set, and he and Ashby were aware that this was 
probably more their film than anybody else's. 

During the first two weeks of shooting, Ashby worked on the script 
with Rudy Wurlitzer, a much-needed outside influence. The two of them 
hung out quite a bit anyway and often strolled on the beach, discussing 
basketball, politics, and Ashby's problems with the studios. Describing 
his reaction when he saw a pretty girl walking along the shore in Malibu, 
Ashby once told Wurlitzer, "I feel like this big bear — I just want to grab 
her! " To make their working arrangements more convenient, Wurlitzer 
actually moved in with Ashby for this period. "I haven't worked with 
a director who was so open with the writing process," says Wurlitzer. 
"He had this ability to be seamless in how he worked with a writer. 
Everything he did was a collaboration — he had no ego. The work was re- 
ally fun because there was real give and take and he was really generous. 
He got the best out of you. That was one of the marks of his work, how 
well he got on with writers."" For Ashby, however, this was a grueling 
period, with his rewrite sessions coming on top of a full day's work; he 
recalled, "I would come home at about eleven at night, and we'd work 
till about four in the morning, and I'd get to work at six. We just wrote 
all night."2o 

The actors participated in the rewriting process as well, and on week- 
ends during filming, Ashby would get together with Fonda, Voight, and 
Dern and tape their improvisations, allowing them to create spontane- 
ous and honest versions of existing scenes that Jones then worked into 
the shooting script. Fvery night he would discuss with his cast the scenes 
they were to shoot the following day and work out with them the op- 
timum approach to a scene. As long as Ashby knew the purpose for a 
scene and that purpose was retained, he was happy for the actors to be 
free and creative within that framework. As he put it, "Even though I'm 
that unstructured, I am structured. "^^ 

Despite his dedication and attachment to his character, Voight be- 
came hugely despondent at the results of his efforts. At the end of a day's 
shooting early on, he turned to Ashby and said, "I quit. I'm not good 
enough to do this part. Get Al Pacino or somebody."^^ Ashby told him 
that he believed in him and that they would work through any problems 
together, and fortunately this plea made Voight rethink his decision. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Voight may have been feeling the pressure of his first major Holly- 
wood leading role since Deliverance (1972) five years earlier, but Ashby's 
restrained approach to directing seemed to settle him. In one scene early 
on in shooting, Voight kept blowing his lines. After five or six takes, the 
camera broke, and Voight felt responsible for even that. Ashby came and 
sat down next to him and lightened the mood by making a few jokes. 

"We could be here all day doing this thing," Voight said.^' 

"What's the difference.'" Ashby replied. "We're having a good time, 
aren't we? Good company? What a nice time. It's great that we're togeth- 
er, we're all making a movie. I don't care if we stay here all afternoon. 
This is it. Can't be better."^'' 

Immediately, Voight felt at ease. "I knew I would have the time to 
do it, and I knew that he liked what I was doing for some reason," he 
says. "It was just a nice feeling with Hal, that he was so accepting of 
everything. And in that atmosphere, I finally got it!"^^ 

The opening scene of the film, where paraplegic vets discuss the war, 
has a haunting introductory shot of Luke just sitting quietly and listen- 
ing that Voight played as a reflection of Ashby's own gently watchful 
nature. He assimilated other aspects of his director's personality as well 
in his portrayal of Luke. He had Ashby's beaming, spontaneous laugh 
and, with the same beard and shaggy blond hair, almost looked like 
his baby brother. Voight loved watching the dailies with Ashby because 
no matter how heavy the material was, Ashby would be talking to the 
characters up on the screen and have everyone in stitches. "He wouldn't 
let anybody else take themselves too seriously," says Voight. "I was very 
alert during the piece to Hal's sense of humor because it really fitted. It 
was a sense of humor that came from deep pain and could guide you 
through horrors. And all the guys in the ward had it. I can see Hal's 
humor in almost every scene, and it was the catalyst of Hal's humor and 
personality that made me do certain things. My character in Coming 
Home was in some way an interpretation of Hal's internal drama and 
grace, in the face of all that pain."^*" 

Voight's instinctive, emotional approach to acting, however, was very 
different from that of Fonda, who always knew her lines perfectly, and 
Ashby had to help the two find a working balance. Voight felt his lines 
in an early scene were far too polemical, and he stayed up one night 
worrying about the scene he was going to shoot the following day. "I 

Coming Home 


decided it was all or nothing," says Voight. "I felt the movie wouldn't 
work if it stayed as it was." 

When he arrived on set and joined Ashby and Fonda for a read 
through, he was so nervous his legs were shaking. As they were running 
lines, Voight came to a page and a half of dialogue about the VA and 
suddenly said, "You see these words on these pages. ... I can't say these 

Fonda folded her arms, in a huff, and said, "Well, what do you 
propose we do?" 

Ashby sat there silently, doing nothing but watching Voight and 
Fonda as if it were in fact Luke and Sally who were trying to resolve a 

"You see these words on these pages," Voight repeated. "I can't say 
these words — but you can." 

"And what will you say?" Fonda asked. 

"I'll say 'You're attractive when you're angry. Bender' — or some- 
thing like that. . . ." 

Fonda initially expressed her concern over her ability to learn all the 
new dialogue, but Ashby quietly pointed out that they had two hours 
before they needed to shoot the scene. 

As Fonda left, Ashby turned to Voight and said, "Well, that was 

Voight, who had been terrified, was astonished at how calm Ashby 
had remained when both of them knew that the success of the film hung 
in the balance. 

"It was amazing," Voight says. "I was a desperate wreck. If this didn't 
work, I had no second plan; if they didn't accept this, I was gone."^^ 

When the scene was shot a few hours later, Fonda knew her lines, 
and the change in speaker had eliminated the polemicism, replacing it 
with an honesty and immediacy that really rang true. 

Because of the film's subject matter, and also because of Fonda's reputa- 
tion, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, the national guard, the marines, 
and, most crucially, the VA had refused to cooperate in its making. 
After previous attempts to get help from the U.S. armed forces on The 
Russians Are Coming and The Last Detail, these refusals were not a 
surprise to Ashby. The VA called the as-yet-unproduced film exploitative 


Being Hal Ashby 

and dishonest, and its chief medical officer wrote to Chuck Mulvehill 
saying that the script showed "veterans as weak and purposeless, with 
no admirable qualities, embittered against their country, addicted to 
alcohol and marijuana, and as unbelievably foulmouthed and devoid of 
conventional morality in sexual matters."^* The most immediate upshot 
of this was that Ashby's plan to film the hospital scenes in the VA's Long 
Beach Spinal Cord Facility had to be abandoned. They were shot instead 
at Rancho Los Amigos, a civilian hospital for spinal cord injuries in 
Downey, a small town southeast of Los Angeles. All the paraplegics and 
quadriplegics in the facility were used as extras and supporting cast, 
while only Voight and one other actor, Willie Tyler, "played" paraple- 
gics. By using real people rather than actors, Ashby created a visually 
powerful condemnation of the Vietnam War: "As a filmmaker, what 
more graphic thing could I have than that paraplegic ward. You hardly 
have to use any words. 

Ashby and his crew may have feared that the six weeks at the 
hospital would be difficult and depressing, but it turned out to be the 
most rewarding portion of the shoot. "They're actually more up than 
we are," said Ashby of the patients. "Once they've made the decision 
to go on living, they become very positive thinking people."^" Fonda 
quickly became a hit with the paraplegics, regardless of what they might 
have felt about her before. She was kind, considerate, and knowledge- 
able about their condition, and they recognized that she was the driving 
force behind the first film to tell their story. And as Voight said, "A lot 
of the guys disagreed with her politically, but they sure were attracted 
to her sexually."" 

With not only his usual gang around him but also this buoyantly 
optimistic bunch of extras, Ashby thrived on set. He noted, "It's one of 
the only times I can think of where I've been around 50 or 60 people for 
six weeks at a time and liked every one of them."^^ During the month 
and a half of twelve- and fourteen-hour days, many of the cast and crew 
developed close relationships with the quadri- and paraplegics and had 
their eyes opened to the problems and complexities of their everyday 
existence. From early on, crew members would help patients from their 
chairs to their beds and spoon-feed them as they ate lunch together. 

Voight's approach to his role was to be Luke Martin as much as 
possible: he stayed in his wheelchair for three weeks of filming and some 

Coming Home 


nights would stay over at Rancho Los Amigos. He became one of the 
bunch, and his spirits dipped after the shoot in Downey ended: "When I 
left the hospital, I actually missed it, because that's where all my buddies 
were, that's where the juices were really cooking. All the little things that 
happened on the periphery, they were all exciting to me. I just loved to 
walk into a scene with five or six of the guys — they were so terrific, al- 
ways contributing so much, that when I got on my own I thought 'Where 
are my buddies.' I can't talk to these walkers! I got nothin' to say!'"^^ 

Away from Rancho Los Amigos, staying in character was not so 
effortless for Voight. Fonda and Haskell Wexler both thought he was 
playing Luke too soft, but Ashby trusted Voight's instincts. Ashby and 
Fonda did not always see eye to eye on matters of interpretation — the 
way a character would act or the meaning of a particular line — but he 
always heard her out. He welcomed suggestions from all quarters, and 
Haskell Wexler says that everyone working on Coming Home "felt as 
if they had participated in the making of the film — even if they really 
hadn't — because that was the atmosphere that he fostered. 

Robert Carradine, David's youngest brother, remembers how pro- 
tective Ashby was of his film and his actors. Before his first scene, a 
picnic scene with Fonda, Voight, and Penelope Milford (who was play- 
ing Fonda's best friend), Carradine recalls that he was "very intimidated 
and really uncomfortable." Noticing this, Ashby had the actors talk 
through what might have happened just before the scene started; Voight 
decided they would have been smoking dope, so Ashby and Voight had 
a smoke to set the mood. By the time they had fully "prepared" for 
the scene, Ashby said that they had lost the right light for the shot and 
shooting would have to wrap for the day, thus granting Carradine a 
reprieve. The next day Carradine's nerves had settled, and he gave a 
strong performance that he puts down to Ashby's ability to "peel off 
layers of reluctance, reluctance to completely give."^^ 

Though Ashby was a picture of calm, he was pushing himself to 
the limit, working all the hours in the day to make the film as good as it 
could be. His efforts, however, were lost on UA. During the period when 
he was rewriting with Rudy Wurlitzer, he came home to find a script re- 
port on Coming Home: "The first two goddamn paragraphs were about 
how I had miscast the film, how I'd made this horrible mistake — and it 
didn't matter what the hell I did with the screenplay, because it wouldn't 


Being Hal Ashby 

work anyway." Mike Medavoy and the other UA execs were due to visit 
the set the following day, and as he worked through the night, Ashby 
became increasingly angry. In the morning, he phoned Hellman and told 
him, "Call Mike Medavoy's office and tell them if they come on the set, 
I go off the set."^* 

The culmination of Luke and Sally's romance came in the scene where 
they made love for the first time. From the start, everyone had wanted to 
represent the reality of paraplegics' lives and felt that this scene should 
be no exception. An artist's model was used as a body double, and 
when Fonda saw the footage, she was upset. Both she and Ashby knew 
paraplegics could sometimes get erections, even prolonged ones, but 
Fonda had wanted Luke and Sally's lovemaking to involve oral rather 
than penetrative sex. Ashby, however, had used the body double in such 
a way as to suggest the latter. "Aha," Fonda thought, "when it comes to 
shooting my close-ups, I won't move, so he won't be able to cut it in." 
With only Ashby and Haskell Wexler there and sheets draped over the 
bed to ensure privacy, Fonda shot her scene and was fully focused on 
what she was doing when Voight whispered, "Jane, Hal's yelling at you." 
Suddenly, Fonda heard Ashby saying, "Ride him, goddammit!"^^ 

Wexler continued shooting the scene, but Fonda froze, refusing to 
comply with Ashby's wishes. He continued to shout, "Move your body, 
goddammit!" but Fonda would not. "Finally, he gave up and stormed off 
the set," Fonda remembers. "I felt bad. I'd never seen Hal mad; he was 
usually so mellow."^* When Fonda saw the way Ashby had cut the scene, 
however, she was pleased with the results. His editing implied that Luke 
gave Sally orgasmic oral sex, and it was a great, sensual advert for the 
sensitivity and sexual prowess of paraplegics. (Fonda later said that Ron 
Kovic told her the scene had improved his sex life immeasurably.) 

Ashby knew that the film's final sequence — Bob Hyde's suicide in- 
tercut with a speech Luke gives to a group of high school students — was 
integral to its success both as a representation of an America crippled 
by war and as a piece of dramatic filmmaking. Ashby felt that the most 
honest and powerful statements were not rehearsed and eloquent but 
faltering and heartfelt, so Luke's speech was completely unscripted. 
The day before the scene was shot, Voight called up his paraplegic vet 
friends and asked them what they would say in that situation, what he 

Coming Home 


should say. He absorbed it all but still was unsure that he would be able 
to express it properly. Ashby just looked at him and said quietly, "You 
got lt."3' 

As Voight sat there in his wheelchair, he looked at the kids in the 
audience. They weren't real high school students there to listen to a 

speech, just extras. "I knew they weren't interested," says Voight, "and I 
was determined I was going to reach those kids.'"*" The resulting speech, 
from the moment Luke has to lower the microphone to wheelchair level 
to his tearful plea to think before enlisting, was instinctive and natural 
and deeply moving. 

Salt's original idea for the film's climax involved Bob Hyde taking 
hostages, killing one of them, and dying in a SWAT shoot-out on the 
freeway believing he was back in 'Nam, but Ashby scrapped it, sure he 
had seen this ending on television late one night. More significantly, 
he refused to use it because of the responsibility he felt not to portray 
Vietnam vets as crazed killers. 

Ashby regretted that there was not more of Bob Hyde's character 
throughout the film so that the audience would know him better and 
his suicide would be more understandable. Hyde represented the massed 
ranks of the American armed forces, and Ashby felt that his death "should 
be lyrical and a sort of heroic suicide.'"*^ Hellman, Voight, Fonda, and 
Dern all put forward suggestions about how he should end his life, but 
in the end Ashby decided to use his own idea of Hyde striding into the 
ocean. "I thought it was pretty interesting," Ashby said, "and it moved 
me a lot.""*^ The sea held a special fascination for Ashby. He loved it but 
confessed that it called to him sometimes. In moments of uncharacter- 
istic openness, Ashby would tell the story of how, during his dark days 
at the end of the 1960s, he had himself decided to commit suicide by 
swimming as far as he could out to sea. He went to the army and navy 
store to buy a bathing suit for the occasion, but when he couldn't find 
one, he thought to himself, "What am I doing?" and decided not to go 
through with it.'*' 

Bob Hyde, on the other hand, found a fitting outfit for his send-off, 
turning up to take the "long swim" in full regimental dress. A skeleton 
crew assembled at Redondo Beach at 5:30 a.m. Ashby didn't rehearse 
the scene but told Haskell Wexler to let Dern undress and walk into the 
sea as slowly as felt right. After one take, Ashby took Dern aside and 


Being Hal Ashby 

said, "I want you to come with me for five minutes." He took him to his 
trailer and played him the song "Once I Was" by Tim Buckley. "I want 
to tell you a story," he said, and told him how Buckley had auditioned to 
play Woody in Bound for Glory but had tragically died just days later. 
"I owe this guy big time," Ashby said, "and his song is going to be the 
end of this movie."'*'' 

They went out again, and the scene Ashby captured is as moving 
and as lyrical as he could have hoped. Dern played it out without know- 
ing that it was not Bob Hyde's suicide Ashby was watching but himself 
walking into the water and swimming out to sea, washing away all the 
pain in his life that stemmed from his father's own suicide thirty-six 
years earlier. When Dern came out of the water, Ashby was crying. He 
went over to Dern, took him in his arms, and held him. Nothing was 
said, but nothing needed to be said. 

The main shoot of Coming Home finished on April 23, and Ashby threw 
a big wrap party, inviting the numerous paraplegics who appeared in 
the film as special guests. Fonda made an emotional speech, after which 
they watched half an hour of footage featuring the paras. "They went 
crazy," says Voight. "It was their film. Jane and I were just extras walk- 
ing through the background. Two best buddies got drunk and broke 
each other's noses in a fist fight in wheelchairs and the whole thing was 

There were, however, still additional sequences of Bob Hyde's 
"R&R" break to be shot in Hong Kong, and on April 30, a lightweight 

crew, including Ashby, Fonda, Dern, Wexler, and Schroeder, arrived in 
the British colony, one of the most densely populated places on earth. 
Filming proved problematic as people kept staring directly at the cam- 
era, and Wexler had to hide in the back of a station wagon to get his 
shots. By the final day, Schroeder says, "Everybody on the set was sick, 
and it ended up being me as the 1st A.D. [assistant director] and the 
make-up person's assistant. We had three locations in one day; we were 
so proud because we got everything done and even wrapped early."'*'' 
Finally, Ashby could relax as he and Schroeder, a keen and talented 
photographer, took a few days off to explore and take pictures of the 
vibrant, bustling city. 

Afterward, they flew on to Cannes, where Bound for Glory was in 

Coming Home 


competition. Back in the United States, UA released the film first on a 
test basis in New York, Los Angeles, and Denver but decided to hold 
its general release until after the Oscar nominations came out. The film 
earned six nominations, including Best Picture, but, disappointingly, 
Ashby was not nominated as Best Director, and Mike Haller's produc- 
tion design was also inexplicably overlooked. Up against two very big 
films. Network and Rocky, Bound for Glory was never expected to come 
away with much, and nominees Robert Getchell, Bob Jones (as editor), 
costume designer William Theiss, and Leventhal and Blumofe (for Best 
Picture) all left empty-handed. Nevertheless, there were deserved tri- 
umphs for Haskell Wexler's cinematography and Leonard Rosenman's 
score, and the film was also honored with a raft of nominations (though 
few victories) at the other principal nights in the awards season. It earned 
a disappointing $3 million, but Mike Medavoy regarded it as a very suc- 
cessful film. "It didn't make any money," he says, "but it was nominated 
for the Academy Award, and it's a landmark film. When I think about 
the films that I'm really proud to be a part of, that's one of them.'"*^ 

Bound for Glory was also shortlisted for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, 
but the award was given to Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Padre Padrone. 
Pierre Sauvage, the editor of the Cannes Daily, who interviewed Ashby 
during the festival, wrote to him afterward, reporting: "The jury verdict 
was rather controversial and unpopular. 'Tacky' was the way Bob Alt- 
man put it to Pauline Kael as we stood around nervously at the airport 
the following day.'"** But Ashby's disappointment was not great as his 
focus now was entirely on Coming Home. 

His most immediate problem was that his editor came to him say- 
ing he didn't understand the material, that it didn't cut together. As his 
new cutter was clearly not a suitable replacement for Bob Jones, Ashby 
decided to take a risk and promote Donny Zimmerman, who had been 
on his editorial team since The Landlord, to chief editor. It would be his 
first film in charge, but Ashby knew that Zimmerman understood him 
and the way he worked as well as anyone. 

Over the course of the summer, Ashby let his love of late 1960s 
music permeate Coming Home; the Rolling Stones were featured most 
prominently, which Ashby explained was because he'd been hanging out 
with Mick Jagger. He decided to have songs from 1966-1968 wall-to- 
wall throughout the film, as he had also planned to do in Shampoo. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Careful positioning of tracks heightened the impact of already powerful 
scenes, the music underscoring the emotion of the action, sometimes 
reinforcing images, sometimes acting as a counterpoint. Ashby wanted 
Coming Home to be "a new kind of musical" in which the music would 
remind the audience what they were doing at the time they first heard 
the song, allowing them to "drift in and out with the music. It can cause 
them to linger over a certain point, or take them somewhere else.'"" 
Hellman and UA were resistant to the idea owing to the cost, but this 
obstacle was overcome when the musicians, who were sympathetic to 
the film's message, gave Ashby the songs at discounted rates. 

Late in the year, Ashby gathered the actors and crew together for 
a screening of a two-hour-and-forty-minute rough cut. Though most 
people were very moved by it, the abiding memory of the screening was 
Fonda's husband, politician Tom Hayden, coming out afterward and 
saying to Jon Voight as he passed him, "Nice try."^° Hayden's cutting 
comment was possibly due to his anger at Fonda's sex scene with Voight 
(Henry Fonda demanded that the scene be cut entirely), but Ashby too 
saw weaknesses in the cut. He set to work tightening the film, giving 
the three protagonists equal prominence in the latter stages of the film. 
Fonda, the unenlightened woman who has her eyes opened to the nature 
of war through her relationship with one of its victims, was the person 
Ashby finally chose to close on, leaving the audience to ponder how she 
had grown through the course of the film. 

In January 1978, a few weeks before its release, there was a highly 
positive special screening of Coming Home arranged by Hellman in 
Washington for veterans' groups that turned likely opponents into strong 
supporters. Later that month, however, the film's chance of success was 
dealt a huge blow when Arthur Krim and the UA top brass (including 
Mike Medavoy) had a falling out with Transamerica, UA's owners, and 
quit to form a new company, Orion. The people who had championed 
and were emotionally attached to Coming Home were replaced by new 
staff who viewed it as a financial liability. Rather than risk losing even 
more money by properly promoting it, they set out to bury it. Due for re- 
lease in mid-February, Coming Home was to start its Los Angeles run in 
the third largest screen in an anonymous cinema on Wilshire Boulevard, 
where UA calculated it was guaranteed to be ignored. 

Ashby and Hellman were distraught and faced a battle to save their 

Coming Home 


film. Their relationship up to this point had been patchy at best: Hellman 
was a creative producer, while Ashby, who was allergic to producers, 
thought that creative producer was a contradiction in terms. Hellman 
often praised Ashby (and Ashby was very receptive to praise), but he also 
questioned his decisions when necessary (and that got Ashby's back up). 
They were neighbors and rode to work in the same car every morning; 
depending on recent dealings, either Ashby would be talkative and pleas- 
ant, or the entire journey would pass in silence. During postproduction, 
Ashby was reluctant to tell Hellman about screenings, and Don Zim- 
merman went behind Ashby's back to keep him informed. Once, a fully 
dressed Hellman confronted Ashby in his steam room and accused him 
of not telling him about screenings; an awkward Ashby, naked except 
for a towel, replied that he wasn't trying to conceal anything from him. 

The UA crisis, however, forced them to band together. "We were 
working as an absolute team," says Hellman, "and that's when our 
friendship started."-'^ Hellman was experienced in dealing with cinemas 
and pulled some strings to have the film moved to a much more promi- 
nent theater in Westwood. Ashby and Hellman then flew to New York 
and spent a week preparing for the film's opening. On February 15, 
the day of the first New York screening, there was a line all the way 
down the block, despite the film's controversial subject matter and the 
fact that it had been poorly publicized. In the queue was a man in a 
wheelchair, and Ashby and Hellman realized that they had, ironically, 
forgotten about disabled access; there were steps leading into the cinema 
and then an escalator to take people to the screen one level up. As Ashby 
and Hellman helped carry the man into the cinema and upstairs, no one 
took any notice of him. After the film, however, he was surrounded by 
people eager to talk to and help him. 

Back in the 1950s, when Ashby was envisioning his future as a director, 
he had decided he wanted to make films that made a difference and 
changed the way people saw things. Coming Home was the film he'd 
been waiting all those years to make. Fonda, Hellman, and Ashby knew 
from the outset that if it were too preachy, it would fall flat on its face, 
so Ashby avoided polemics, favoring instead a documentary feel that 
brought viewers into the reality of the characters' lives. When Luke 
makes his impassioned speech to the high school pupils, it is much more 


Being Hal Ashby 

personal than it is political. Coming Home was not a film about war or 
politics; it was a film about people whose lives are inextricably linked to 
war and politics. 

At the start of the film, when Bob Hyde is asked what Sally thinks 
of the war, he says, "I don't think she really understands it all, but she 

accepts it." Coming Home was aimed at people like Sally who didn't 
understand but accepted, and with Fonda's character as their guide, it 
hoped to change their minds. The film is marked by its pauses and mo- 
ments of silence, which allow viewers to absorb, just as Sally does, what 
they have just seen — from corridors full of paraplegics in wheelchairs to 
a plane returning home carrying the walking wounded, men on stretch- 
ers, and coffins draped in the Stars and Stripes. Without imposing its 
views on the audience, it simply presents a situation, allowing audiences 
to make their own judgments. 

"I identify with all my characters in one way or another," Ashby said. 
"I never sat in a wheelchair like a Vietnam veteran, that's true. But in a 
sense, I transcend that reality somewhere inside me when I go to make a 
film like Coming Home. It then becomes what I would do, how I would 
feel if I were this particular human being in this particular situation. "^^ 
Ashby could so easily relate to his characters because he always looked 
to draw out similarities with himself: he was Sally's naivete, Luke's anger 
and hope, and Bob's tragic darkness. Ashby himself appears in a telling 
cameo in the film's climactic sequence, waving to Fonda and Penelope 
Milford as he drives past with Mike Haller in a Porsche Speedster that is 
identical to Fonda's. It was not only a return to his Hitchcockian cameos 
but also a mark of his affinity with the characters. 

The critical reaction to Coming Home was decidedly mixed, which 
was not surprising given that — with the exception of the gung-ho John 
Wayne vehicle Green Berets (1968) — it was the first Hollywood film 
to tackle the subject of Vietnam. It received raves from Variety and 
the Hollywood Reporter as well as from Time and Rex Reed in the 
Daily News, who lauded the performances of Fonda, Voight, Dern, and 
Milford. Ashby was particularly happy to hear it favorably compared 
to William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which dealt 
with World War II vets' return to civilian life (and happier still to learn 
later that Wyler himself had seen Coming Home and was a strong sup- 
porter). However, other prominent reviewers like Pauline Kael and the 

Coming Home 


New York Times' Vincent Canby complained that it pulled its punches 
politically and tried to please too many people, and Charles Champlin 
in the Los Angeles Times heaped praise on the film yet had reservations 
(as did others) about its persistent sound track. 

However, the public reaction to the film was what really mattered 
to Ashby, as the more people who saw the film, the more there would 
be whose horizons were broadened. A cautious UA marketed the film as 
a romantic movie, stressing the Fonda-Voight relationship rather than 
the issue of the war. These ads, however, had the desired effect, and 
audiences flocked to see Coming Home, which chalked up more than 
$8 million and was one of UA's biggest successes of the year. For Ashby, 
the film was a personal triumph because of the profound impact it had 
on American moviegoers. "I feel as though people are starting to listen," 
he said, "and that's as much as I can ask for. ... I don't think I'll ever be 
totally happy, but I feel satisfied right now with what I'm able to do."^^ 


Double Feature 

The strain is beginning to show on the cast and crew. This 
is not what you'd call a carefree, happy set. There have been 
firings, and Hal Ashby has been doing a lot of yelling lately. 
— ^Journalist Bruce Cook on visiting the Hamster of Happi- 
ness shoot 

I was thoroughly at home inside of Being There, in significant 
measure because of Ashby's inarticulate empathy. The direc- 
tor loves his actors and his work, and that seemed just exactly 
right at this time with this part. 
— Melvyn Douglas 

"I've always led a very simple life," Ashby reflected in early 1978. "Ma- 
terially, I'm living very comfortably; I can afford the things I need. But 
it's not as if I've been striving for all this. It's just starting to happen now 
and it's all very weird to me. I just won't let it take me over. ... I won't 
lose that basic value." Ashby's commitment to basic values was appar- 
ent in his filmmaking as well. In the face of the success of an emerging 
breed of blockbusters such as Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), and Close 
Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), he expressed the hope that "more 
films move toward personal cinema because that is where I'm at. These 
big-budgeted, splashy movies will always be around, they have great ap- 
peal for many. . . . But I intend to keep making personal pictures."^ 

At the time of Coming Home's release, Ashby was closing in on his 
next project. He desperately wanted to do The Hawkline Monster, but 
he felt Richard Brautigan's screenplay was not up to scratch, so he was 
rewriting it himself. American Me, a project about low-rider gangs in 
East Los Angeles that Ashby's friend Lou Adler had planned to produce 
a few years earlier, was ready to go at Paramount. It had a strong ro- 


Double Feature 


mantic element, and though Ashby was attracted to the subject, again 
he feh the writing was not strong enough. By May 1978, he had passed 
on American Me (which finally appeared in 1992, directed by Edward 
James Olmos) and was considering Popeye, a live-action musical of the 
cartoon that was to star Dustin Hoffman and be produced by Robert Ev- 
ans. Working with Hoffman was a big draw, and though a deal seemed 
to be in the offing — Hoffman, Evans, and Ashby went out to celebrate 
with vodka and caviar — Ashby withdrew after Hoffman fell out with 
Jules Feiffer, the satirical cartoonist hired to write the screenplay. (Rob- 
ert Altman took Ashby's place and Robin Williams Hoffman's, and the 
resulting film was released in 1980.) 

Ashby had not had an agent since Mike Medavoy moved to United 
Artists (UA) and instead employed his business manager, Larry Reyn- 
olds, and entertainment lawyer Jack Schwartzman to handle his affairs. 
Schwartzman, who was Ashby's friend as well as attorney, became a 
powerful Hollywood player after he joined the Coppola clan by mar- 
rying Talia Shire, Francis Ford Coppola's sister. Ever since Ashby had 
bought the rights to Hawkline in 1975, Schwartzman had insisted it was 
"the special one," identifying it as a potential goldmine if Jack Nicholson 
and another major male star (Dustin Hoffman and then Clint Eastwood 
were both considered) were to sign on.^ MGM was very keen on the 
project and regularly called Ashby about it, but he was always too busy 
with either Bound for Glory or Coming Home and, in any case, knew 
the script still needed work. 

In 1978, Schwartzman began negotiating a multipicture deal with 
UA and told Ashby that an "unprecedented" deal for Hawkline would be 
at the heart of it. However, when the talks with UA foundered, Schwartz- 
man turned his attention to Lorimar, the television company that made 
The Waltons and Eight Is Enough, which had recently expanded into 
films. Peter Bart, previously Robert Evans's lieutenant at Paramount, had 
been appointed head of the film division, but Ashby didn't want to work 
with him after negative experiences on Harold and Maude. Lorimar, 
however, was extremely keen to attract someone of Ashby's considerable 
cachet, so Schwartzman opportunistically brokered an agreement where 
his newly formed JS Productions would act as the middleman between 
Ashby and Lorimar. 

The reason Ashby was drawn to Lorimar, a company with no track 


Being Hal Ashby 

record in Hollywood, was because it was offering him a very attrac- 
tive deal. Not only would there be a fifty-fifty split of profits between 
Ashby and Lorimar, but he was to have full creative control over his 
films and a say in their distribution and marketing. Ashby stressed that 
the deal gave him more freedom: "I have more creative control and more 
budget control. I will have my own auditor and send Lorimar costs and 
projected costs every week from location. There's a good level of trust 
in that. Also, when I finish the films, I can suggest methods of distribu- 
tion. I might think that one studio would be the best distributor for a 
particular film. And I might wind up in a better place financially."^ 

Despite the Hollywood trend toward blockbusters, Bart idealisti- 
cally pledged to "make commercial movies that have innovative themes 
and subject matter," adding that the "key word is 'flexibility.""* Proving 
just how willing Lorimar was to accommodate Ashby's taste, his deal 
included three initial projects for development: Rudy Wurlitzer's then- 
untitled triangular love story Journey to India; Bob Downey's Victor 
Hiatus (a.k.a. Almost Together), about a man randomly selected to save 
the world who is more interested in getting laid; and Roadshow, a mod- 
ern-day Robin Hood story by novelist William Hjortsberg. In essence, 
these projects were Ashby's attempt to set up films with his friends and 
help them out financially in the process; Downey recalls that, at Ashby's 
request, Lorimar paid him to write the script — despite the fact that he'd 
already written it. 

When the Lorimar deal was announced in early May 1978, the big 
surprise was that Ashby's first film for the company was to be Being 
There, which had suddenly been revived. It was five years since Sellers 
and Ashby had first talked about making the film, but the two had stayed 
in touch; Sellers would call Ashby and spend hours reading scripts to 
him, doing all the voices. Sellers had been wooing Jerzy Kosinski since 
the early 1970s, trying to convince the novelist to let him play the idiot 
savant Chance the gardener, yet, ironically. Being There came together 
for a different reason. In late 1977, Kosinski had told producer Andrew 
Braunsberg about plans to turn Being There into a film and was so im- 
pressed by his advice that he asked Braunsberg himself to produce the 
film. Braunsberg, who had produced several films with Roman Polanski, 
contacted Ashby through their mutual friend Jack Nicholson, who felt 
that Ashby was the ideal director. As Sellers recalled, "[Ashby and I] 

Double Feature 


made a promise to each other that if we ever got a break with it, he 
would come to me, or I would come to him. And suddenly Hal phoned 
me one day in Vienna, and said, 'I hesitate to say this, but I think we've 
got it off the ground. It's really going to go.'"^ 

Sellers's involvement in the film, however, was still in doubt. When 
approached by Braunsberg to direct Being There, Ashby had said, "Sure, 
I'd be interested, but only with Peter Sellers."'' Ryan O'Neal was Kosinski's 
choice, and Braunsberg too was unconvinced that Sellers — a fat, aging 
comic actor without significant box-office clout — was right for the part. 
So Sellers and Ashby arranged to have dinner in Los Angeles with the 
two doubters. Sellers turned up with what Braunsberg recalls was "a 
triple chin" but assured all present that he was going to a Bel Air clinic to 
have a facelift that was guaranteed to make him look the part.^ As soon 
as Sellers's casting had been approved, the Lorimar deal was quickly 

Kosinski, who had written a screenplay of the novel back in 1971, 
was hired to adapt Being There, and the production's start date was 
set for October. Ashby, however, was impatient to get on with actu- 
ally making a film and in late June announced that he would shoot The 
Hamster of Happiness back-to-back with Being There. Frustrated with 
the amount of time — eighteen months, on average — it took him to make 
a picture from start to finish, he planned to shoot two films consecutively 
and then edit them simultaneously. "After being chained to one film for 
over a year," he explained, "you're no longer thinking straight. Your 
intuition is gone. You're stale. Editing two films at the same time should 
be fresher, healthier and less rigid. Without being too great a drain on 
me. I think it will enhance both films by keeping me from freezing on 
one set of problems."* He was very keen to increase his productivity and, 
with his fiftieth birthday just over a year away, wanted to up the pace 
while he still could. 

Though Hamster seemed to come suddenly out of nowhere, Ashby 
had in fact read the script in 1971, when its author, Charles Eastman, 
had already been touting it around for two years. Eastman was one of 
Hollywood's most respected script doctors and the writer of Honeybear, I 
Think I Love You, which attained legendary status in Hollywood as pos- 
sibly the greatest script never to be filmed. He was also briefly a director, 
but a two-picture deal with Warner Brothers came apart after the first 


Being Hal Ashby 

film, The All-American Boy, spent years on the shelf before finally being 
released (in 1973) to a poor critical response. The Hamster of Happiness, 
the second film in the Warners deal, was canceled as a result, but East- 
man had held on to the hope that he might still direct it one day. A few 
years later, Ashby vainly tried to convince Mike Medavoy to let Eastman 
make the film at UA, and by 1978 Eastman was in such dire financial 
straits that he was forced to sell the property to an anonymous buyer. 

The buyer represented Robert Blake and film and music producer 
James William Guercio (director of Blake's 1973 cult hit Electra Glide 
in Blue), who then approached Ashby to direct Hamster. Despite his 
disappointment that he would not be able to direct the film, Eastman 
was pleased: "I felt Hal could emotionally connect to the film, liked 
my work, and was on my team." Eastman thought Ashby had the right 
sensibility. He had in fact written his "first and only fan letter" to him 
after seeing The Landlord.^ 

He was less pleased, however, about who now owned his script, as 
Blake (rather like David Carradine after Kung Fu) was not perceived 
as a serious actor after his stint in the television series Baretta. Unusu- 
ally short, and lacking conventional good looks, Blake was neverthe- 
less a capable actor and one of the more intriguing leading men of the 
1970s. Moreover, Ashby had longlisted him as a casting option for 
Luke in Coming Home, Woody in Bound for Glory, and Johnny Pope 
in Shampoo and looked forward to using him in Hamster, for which 
his unglamorous, offbeat look was ideal. The film was about salt-of- 
the-earth people, a mechanic. Loyal Muke, who marries waitress and 
singer Dinette Dusty while on a drunken bender and then finds himself 
saddled with her and her three children. Human, Iota, and Sandra Dee. 
It was a fable-like script full of homespun wisdom, and Ashby was keen 
to capture the gentle comedy in a film "about people and the way they 
treat each other." 

With only a brief preproduction period, casting had to be quick. 
Guercio had the amusing idea of casting the leggy Jane Fonda as Dusty 
alongside the diminutive Blake's Loyal, but Ashby felt she was too obvi- 
ously glamorous and suggested instead Melinda Dillon, his leading lady 
from Bound for Glory, who had just scored a huge hit with Close En- 
counters of the Third Kind. Blake demurred, and instead Ashby ended 
up casting Barbara Harris, the high-strung star of Freaky Friday (1976). 

Double Feature 


Guercio, who was in any case busy working with Steve McQueen on 
the script of Tom Horn (1980), realized that his and Ashby's vision for 
Hamster differed significantly and agreed he would visit the set only if 
Ashby were behind schedule or over budget. With Guercio, a voluntarily 
absent producer; Blake, a star who Guercio recalls was "in love" with his 
director;" and a budget of just under $5 million, Ashby found himself in 
what looked like an ideal situation. The shoot, however, would turn out 
to be his most challenging so far. 

Mike Haller stayed behind in Los Angeles to work on ideas for Being 
There, and Ashby went off to El Paso, Texas, to shoot Hamster with a 
crew that included Haskell Wexler, Chuck Mulvehill, and Dianne Schro- 
eder (who was both his assistant and the film's photographer). Ashby 
was unfortunately shooting from mid-July until the end of September, 
the most brutally hot time of the year, and had to tough it out in the 
desert during a record heat wave, the sun burning down from cloudless 
skies, and the temperatures up to 110°F in the shade. Ashby tried to 
shoot as late in the day as possible, but during daytime scenes everybody 
suffered from the excruciating heat. In one scene, Blake and Harris were 
in their car with the eponymous hamster running across the windshield; 
however, the heat was so intense that the hamsters kept on dying. 

Ashby had been unable to involve Eastman in the film and had not 
had his usual sessions with the writer. He hadn't even tinkered with the 
script on his own. Ultimately, he says, "I felt pretty much obligated at 
that point to go as much with that script as I possibly could. ... I just 
went with it; it was a script I liked a lot. But I wouldn't normally do that, 
and I'm not sure I would do it again."^^ The script was unconventional, 
written in a loose, free-form style with unpunctuated dialogue open to 
Ashby and the actors' interpretation. Ashby said that he would be "de- 
lighted" if he could come away with four or five different editing options 
per scene, "as boggling as that is when you come to look at the film. . . . 
I'm not intimidated by film, or much of anything else."^^ He was helped 
in the shooting process by the fact that, for the first time, he had video 
playback, which allowed him to watch a take straight away, rather than 
having to wait to see the dailies. 

It quickly became apparent that the shoot was going to be a test 
of endurance; Haskell Wexler described it as a period defined by "con- 
fusion and division."^'' Blake, who owned the Hamster script and was 


Being Hal Ashby 

nominally Ashby's employer, hired half the crew himself, so the company 
was awkwardly split into "Ashby's people" and "Blake's people." There 
was palpable tension throughout between the two factions, tension that 
worsened as Ashby's and Blake's relationship deteriorated. "Once when 
I was in front of the camera," says Blake, "and I was all knotted up 
trying to be profound and trying to show Hal how much I could feel, he 
said — very loud so all the crew and all the spectators could hear — Ah, 
Robert! Just hit the marks and say the jokes and siddown!'" Though 
Blake looked back on this as Ashby "getting things in perspective" for 
him, at the time it stung. 

Blake had been a child actor in the Our Gang serials, and it seemed 
his early fame had left him with psychological scars. "He was very dif- 
ficult, very moody," says Dianne Schroeder. "All I remember is he saw 
me once take a photograph and threatened if he saw the camera again, 
he'd break it."^* Talking during the making of Hamster about how he 
approached his work, Blake said, "If you fight with me, I will fight you 
forever. But if you mess with me, I'll kill you."'^ 

Jack and Beth Ashby visited the set and remember Hal struggling to 
work with Blake, who was constantly getting on his back. Blake called 
Eastman and told him his script was being ruined. He then phoned 
Guercio and said, "I don't like the way things are going. You gotta come 
down here." When Guercio arrived in El Paso, he found that things 
were, as he said, "messy" owing to the amount of drugs on set (Eastman 
claims there was even a cocaine budget), though there is no evidence 
that Ashby himself was indulging. In any case, Ashby was perfectly on 
schedule and within the budget. When it transpired that Blake's greatest 
gripe was to do with his costar, Guercio left telling him, "Any problems 
with Barbara, you gotta talk to Hal. He's the fuckin' director."^* 

Ashby's biggest challenge was to work around the deep hatred be- 
tween his two leads. In theory, Blake and Harris made an interesting 
union of opposites, the gruff street brawler alongside the dainty New 
England princess, but in real life opposites did anything but attract. 
Their performances clashed horribly, Blake's shouty, over-the-top the- 
atrics very much at odds with Harris's restraint. In an interview during 
filming, Ashby said that The Hamster of Happiness was about "two 
people who were at the end of their ropes and going crazy because of 
it," maintaining that the interplay between "Barbara and Robert works 

Double Feature 


well. She's always within the character but within it she's less controlled 
than Robert, so you get a lot of surprise and freshness all the time. It's 
funny to watch the dailies. I hear myself say 'Cut!' and then laugh."^' 

Whether he was trying to put a positive spin on things or simply 
deluding himself, the reality was that Harris and Blake were each acting 
in their own film, and they were ruining Ashby's. "Both of them are 
nuts — certifiably over the top," says Haskell Wexler. "And they didn't try 
and hide their dislike of each other."^" Blake was a loose cannon, chang- 
ing tack constantly, while Harris (who was supposedly on tranquilizers) 
seemed to decide on one way of interpreting a scene and then stick to it 
no matter what. Her dislike and fear of Blake became so intense that she 
sometimes refused to leave her trailer. Harris was going through a period 
of crippling self-doubt: despite being an experienced theatrical actress, 
she couldn't remember her lines and had to write them on her hand 
or on strategically positioned bottles. It was only Ashby's admiration 
for her acting that made him keep faith with Harris, whose neurotic, 
melodramatic performances off camera tested the patience of everybody 

When the Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin visited the 
set near the end of the shoot, the two stars made no effort to hide their 

disdain for each other. 

"We love each other," Blake told Champlin, putting his arm around 
Harris, "and when this is over we never want to see each other again." 

Harris managed a smile. 

"We got this deal that whenever she wants to be in L.A. she sends 

me a ticket to Baja California or any place of my choice," Blake went on, 
"and whenever I got to be in New York I send her and her mother tickets 
to Palm Beach or any place of her choice." 
"It's a deal," Harris said.^i 

As shooting moved into its final month, Ashby began to feel the 
pressure to finish on time. It was rare for him to bring a film in on 
schedule, but with Being There due to start shooting soon after, he had 
very little leeway. In early September, he wrote home, saying, "All is 
going along pretty good — a little shaky here and there, but no real disas- 
ters."^^ Nonetheless, the final weeks were especially difficult, and Ashby 
uncharacteristically lost his temper a number of times; filming finally 
wrapped on October 3, just five days over schedule. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Although he had struggled with the cast and even been reduced to 
shouting at people, Ashby earned the respect of many of his collabora- 
tors on the film. Haskell Wexler talked of the continuing joys of working 
with his friend, Harris sang his praises unreservedly, and the veteran 
actor Bert Remsen (who played Voyd Dusty, Dinette's father-in-law) de- 
clared, "I'd do anything in my life to help Hal Ashby." Remsen, who 
called Ashby "somebody who is trying to say something special about 
America," explained, "He just instills in you that you have all the free- 
dom in the world. You just feel it with him. It's a feeling of comfort. You 
feel completely relaxed and free."^^ 

On his return to Los Angeles, Ashby learned that Peter Sellers was 
in the midst of making The Prisoner of Zenda (1979) in Vienna and, 
despite the fact that filming on Being There was scheduled to start in 
early November, would not be free until January. After briefly discuss- 
ing the possibility of recasting the role, Ashby instead decided to push 
back production until Sellers was ready and spend the valuable extra 
months on preproduction. During the making of Hamster, Kosinski had 
produced what he considered to be close to a final draft of Being There; 
however, Ashby was unimpressed. Kosinski had rushed the screenplay, 
seeing it as merely a distraction from his "real work," finishing his latest 
novel. Passion Play. As a result, the screenplay (which Kosinski himself 
described as "competent, but . . . not inspired") lacked the quality and 
unique tone of the novel.^'' Ashby said that Kosinski's adaptation was 
"too heavy-handed" for his taste and turned it over to Bob Jones, whom 
he could rely on to fashion a more cinematic and nuanced screenplay. 
Though Jones had heard rumors that Kosinski did not actually write 
his novels, he was shocked to find that the script he had inherited was 
"barely comprehensible" and began radically altering it, working more 
from Kosinski's original novel than from his garbled script.^* Three weeks 
later, Jones had written an inspired new version. "I knew I was into the 
film then," said Ashby. "I'd always felt strongly about it being a film, but 
now I had my blueprint, my structure there. Then I sat down with Robert 
for three or four weeks and we worked really hard on it, eight or nine 
hours a day. We never worked with Jerzy on the script; [but] when we 
sent it to him, he loved it."^^ 

The script Kosinski so approved of also included scenes that Ashby 
had conceived with Mike Haller inspired by Haller's scouting trip to 

Double Feature 


Washington, D.C. In Being There, the idiot savant Chance's simphstic 
statements about growth cycles and seasonal change are misinterpreted 
as profound economic metaphors, and he is unwittingly elevated to the 
position of political heavyweight. Because of the film's strong political 
content, Ashby had decided to move the action from New York City to 
the nation's capital. When in Washington, Haller had visited its black 
ghetto and hit on the idea that the house owned by the old man who 
employed Chance as a gardener and sheltered him from the outside 
world should be the only white holdout in the neighborhood. This idea 
naturally led to the interactions between Chance and the other ghetto 
residents when the old man's death forces him to leave his haven and go 
out into the world. 

In his discussions with Ashby, Haller also mentioned that Caleb 
Deschanel, a young director of photography who had met Ashby while 
a film student at the University of Southern California, had just been 
accepted into the cinematographers' union. Ashby had kept tabs on 
Deschanel for over a decade and, with Haskell Wexler busy on another 
project, decided to hire him to shoot Being There. Deschanel, who was 
coming off shooting More American Graffiti (1979), read the script but 
struggled to see its appeal. However, after calling Ashby and hearing his 
descriptions of certain scenes and how he imagined the film, he suddenly 
became as excited as Ashby. "He told the story in such a wonderfully 
charming way," recalls Deschanel, "and he just had this incredible vi- 
sion of it that seemed so extraordinary, so unusual, especially for an 
American film."^* 

Ashby and Deschanel then went on a scouting trip looking for the 
grand mansion that would be home to Benjamin Rand, the influential 
industrialist who "adopts" Chance after his limo runs him over. They 
went first to affluent Newport, Rhode Island, but ended up opting for 
the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, a 250-room stately 
home set in ten thousand acres of woodland that had been built in the 
late nineteenth century by George Vanderbilt. For a film about politics, 
wealth, and power, the awesome scale of Biltmore House and its estate 
perfectly embodied the trappings of success. The further fact that it had 
been used in only one film previously — the house's exterior appears in 
the 1956 Grace Kelly movie The Swan — made it the clear choice for the 
Rand Mansion. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Another integral element in the plot of Being There is the influence 
of television on Chance: for most of his cloistered life this has been his 
only access to the world beyond the walled garden where he works, 
and it has become his prime influence and guide. Ashby — who felt 
that television "can be the greatest tool in the world, and it can be the 
greatest detriment in the world" — himself tuned in only for movies, the 
news, and the occasional special.^' Dianne Schroeder had a much more 
thorough knowledge of television culture, so he assigned her the task 
of finding clips to feature in the film. She ended up selecting so many 
clips, from drama series, game shows, and commercials, that Ashby 
joked that the film was "in danger of becoming a TV show, and people 
would be waiting for a commercial."'" In the memorable scene in which 
Chance learns to kiss, however, there is a movie playing on his television 
set. After considering alternatives from Claude Lelouch's Un Homme et 
JJne Femme (1966) and Hitchcock's Notorious (1946), Ashby chose the 
chess scene from The Thomas Crown Affair, not because of its personal 
resonance for him, but simply because it was the best passionate clinch 
of the three. 

Production on Being There began in late January in Los Angeles 
and a week later moved to Asheville, where the majority of filming was 
to take place. Ashby had cast Shirley MacLaine as Eve Rand but was 
still pondering whom to cast as Ben Rand, whom he felt should be por- 
trayed by someone with a real "center of strength."'^ His initial thought 
was Burt Lancaster, but he eventually opted for seventy-eight-year-old 
Melvyn Douglas, a 1930s leading man who had starred opposite Greta 
Garbo and Joan Crawford in his heyday and now, in his later years, 
exemplified fortitude tempered by a gentle humanity. For the role of the 
U.S. president, Ashby could not think past Jack Warden and was de- 
lighted to be working with him again, this time in happier circumstances 
than on Shampoo. 

Ashby was very relaxed making Being There, and producer Andrew 
Braunsberg, who had heard stories about Ashby being difficult, was 
surprised by his quiet working method. Braunsberg's frequent collabo- 
rations with Roman Polanski had accustomed him to a more hands-on 
directorial style. "Hal," he recalled, "was invisible."^^ Ashby would say, 
"Let's try it again," when he wanted another take, but he held back 
from specific directions, which he felt were unnecessary and often coun- 

Double Feature 


terproductive. He knew he had a reputation as a "relaxed" director but 
objected to the label. "I'm not laid back," he contended. "There's a tre- 
mendous energy going on all the time. What are you going to accomplish 
by raising your voice? Even if you're striving for some tense thing in your 
film, getting the crew tense isn't going to help. I went through a period 
in my life where I argued about everything, and I found I wasn't getting 
much accomplished.'"' 

Fortunately, a lot was being accomplished on Being There, and Peter 
Sellers, who himself had a reputation for being difficult, was an integral 
part of this. Yet, just days before shooting was to begin. Sellers had had a 
crisis of confidence, suddenly doubting his ability to do justice to Chance 
the gardener. Although it was the dream role he had chased for years, he 
had never thought about precisely how he would play the part and now 
frantically searched for the two elements that would lead him to the core 
of the character: Chance's walk and, most important, his voice. Working 
alone with a tape recorder, then with his wife, Lynne Frederick, and with 
Ashby, Sellers perfected Chance's voice, a mid-Atlantic accent (with just 
a hint of Sellers's idol, Stan Laurel), clear enunciation, and a flat delivery 
that revealed the childlike mind behind the words. 

Chance was a much more difficult character to play than his well- 
worn Inspector Clouseau, but once Sellers found him, he retreated inside 
the persona, which in fact resonated profoundly with his own sense of self. 
From take to take, he would tease out more and more aspects of Chance 
as he burrowed ever deeper into his alter ego's psyche. Sellers described 
the experience of working on Being There as "so humbling, so powerful," 
and would sometimes call "Cut!" in the middle of a scene because he was 
overwhelmed. When asked if he was all right, he would answer in a bewil- 
dered. Chance-like way, "Oh. No, no. I've just never seen anything quite 
like this film before."^'' Once a scene was over, more often than not he 
would silently withdraw to his trailer so as not to lose his connection with 
Chance. Sellers refused most interview requests and kept his distance from 
Shirley MacLaine, who complained about him going off into a corner, to 
which he replied, "If I hadn't I'd have broken my gardener for the day."'^ 
Even when he returned home to his wife, he often remained in character. 
Only occasionally did he return to himself, such as when he was relaxing 
with Jack Warden between scenes, the two raconteurs entertaining each 
other with acting stories until they cried with laughter. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Chance, however, never laughed and seemed to have no sense of 
humor, so Sellers had to be careful not to let his own laughter become 
part of the character. In one particular scene, he let the mask slip when 
he had to repeat, in his uninflected monotone, a message given to him in 
the ghetto: '"Now get this, honky. You go tell Rafael that I ain't taking 
no jive from no Western Union messenger. You tell that asshole that if 
he got something to tell me, to get his ass down here himself.' Then he 
said that I was to get my white ass out of here quick or he'd cut it." In 
take after take, Sellers got partway through with a straight face, then 
cracked up in midsentence. The lines tickled Sellers so much that in the 
end Ashby had to cut the dialogue. 

Ashby did his best to nurture Sellers's talent and create an envi- 
ronment in which he could give his best. He was in awe of Sellers and 
let the actor's placid, unhurried rhythm set the film's pace. Ashby and 
Sellers worked together closely, sometimes walking off, deep in discus- 
sion, leaving the crew unsure of when exactly they would start shooting 
the scene. Just after Sellers's death, Ashby recalled, "I always felt while 
looking at his eyes how I'd never talked with anyone who was so totally 
vulnerable. He always let me into him through his eyes to places so deep 
that I wouldn't ever try to know. Places that only he, if he were aware of 
it at all, could know about."'* 

Ashby also had an ideal working relationship with Melvyn Douglas, 
whom he felt added a spiritual quality to the film owing to the fervent 
conviction with which he spoke his lines. Douglas called Ashby "a grown- 
up child" and said that his "inarticulate empathy" and "free-wheeling 
approach released a creativity, a kind of goofiness" in him.'^ He quickly 
got into the spirit of experimentation that Ashby fostered on his sets, 
sometimes even coming up with ideas that were too wild for Ashby to 
use. (One scene Douglas devised, in which Rand and Chance walk hand 
in hand, even unsettled the famously unshakable Sellers.) 

Ashby was excited about the simplicity and clarity that Sellers and 
Douglas were achieving in their performances and one Sunday afternoon 
enthused to Rudy Wurlitzer: "Rudy, the way it's going with these char- 
acters and what's happening with them, I could have this guy walking on 
water at the end of the film." After a pause, he said, "I think I will have 
him walking on water at the end of the film."^* The ending as written in 
the script had Eve walking up to Chance in the woods and telling him 

[Left] Ashby's mother, Eileen, around 1909, the year she married Ashby's father. 
(Courtesy Jack and Beth Ashby.) [Right] James Thomas Ashby, Ashby's father, in the 
mid-1910s. (Courtesy Jaclc and Beth Ashby.) 

Eileen and James with Ardith and 
"Hetz," just before James left 
on his mission to South Africa. 
(Courtesy Jack and Beth Ashby.) 

Hal and Jack were nigh inseparable as kids: [left] posing, ca. 1932; [right] playing 
cowboys in their backyard, ca. 1933; and [below] looking grown up, ca. 1936. 
(Courtesy Jack and Beth Ashby.) 

[Above] The Big Mug, which Ashby's father 
opened in the mid-1930s, was a popular water- 
ing hole in Ogden. (Courtesy Jack and Beth 

[Right] Hal "shagging" milk, ca. 1941. (Cour- 
tesy Jack and Beth Ashby.) 

Ashby's high school yearbook picture, taken in 1946, 
around the time he started dating his first wife, Lavon 
Compton. (Courtesy Jack and Beth Ashby.) 

Ashby with one of his bohemian Los Angeles friends, Bill 
Box, ca. 1953. (Courtesy Bill Box.) 

Sporting shades with effortless cool during his beatnik 
phase, July 1956. (Courtesy Bill Box.) 

Maloy, Ashby's third wife, cauglit tlie pliotography bug from Ashby's friend 
Bill Otto. (Courtesy Leigh MaciVIanus.) 

She was never happier than when painting with her animals around her. 
(Courtesy Chris Cutri.) 

Already in the late 1950s, the highly driven Ashby knew he wanted to become a director. 
(Courtesy Leigh MacManus.) 

Ashby almost didn't turn up to the Oscars the year he won the Best 
Editing award for In the Heat of the Night, presented to him by Dame 
Edith Evans. (Courtesy AMPAS.) 

But afterward he 
seemed glad that 
he did. 

(Courtesy Jack 
and Beth Ashby.) 

In a post-Oscar glow: probably the last time that Hetz, Ashby, Ardith, 
Eileen, and Jack were all together. (Courtesy Jack and Beth Ashby.) 

Ashby's fourth wife, 
Shirley, with Teeg 
and Carrie, ca. 1970. 
(Courtesy Jack and 
Beth Ashby.) 

[Above] The unlikely lovers (Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon) meet for the first 
time in Harold and Maude. (Courtesy Photofest.) 

[Below] Michael Haller, Ashby's production designer and great friend, shows 
Bud Cort how to wield a blowtorch. (Courtesy Bret Haller.) 

[Right] Ashby, in 
befuddled guru mode, 
laughs with a bloodstained 
Bud Cort. (Courtesy Jack 
and Beth Ashby. 

[Left] A rare shot of Ashby, 
who was infamous for not 
returning calls, on the phone. 
(Courtesy Jack and Beth 

Sporting a post- 
arrest trimmed 
beard, Ashby talks 
to Jack Nicholson 
and Otis Young 
during the shooting 
of The Last Detail. 
(Courtesy Photofest.) 

A typically cheery Ashby, ca. 1975. (Author's collection.) 

Living the boxcar life, flanked by Wexler and his son Jeff, the sound mixer. 
(Courtesy Jeff Wexler.) 

Ashby's friends say that 
Dianne Schroeder was 
the only woman who ever 
understood him. (Courtesy 
Jack and Beth Ashby.) 

A workaholic who barely slept, Ashby seldom allowed himself such 
moments of relaxation. (Courtesy Leigh MacManus.) 

[Left] Chance (Peter 
Sellers) tends his garden 
in Being There, arguably 
Ashby's zenith. (Courtesy 

[Below] Ashby with Jerzy 
Kosinski, who definitely 
wrote the novel but 
maybe not the screenplay. 
(Courtesy Photofest.) 

Jon Voight and Burt Young in Lookin' to Get Out, one of four 1980s-released films 
taken away from Ashby in the editing room. (Author's collection.) 

Ashby elicited one of Ann-Margret's best performances in Lookin'. 
(Courtesy Larry Reynolds.) 

Let's Spend the Night Together gave Ashby the chance to work with two dear 
friends, Pablo Ferro and Mick Jagger. (Courtesy Larry Reynolds.) 

Double Feature 


that she was scared and had been looking for him, to which he responds, 
"I've been looking for you too. Eve." Ashby, however, felt that his idea of 
Chance walking on water would make a much better conclusion. 

He called up Bob Downey, who had a scene in Greaser's Palace (1972) 
in which the lead character walked on water, and asked whether he could 
"borrow" Downey's idea. 

"Why are you asking me?" Downey said with amusement. "It's in 
the Bible!" 

"Who do I call?" Ashby deadpanned.^^ 

Downey advised Ashby to use a particular type of platform, which 

he could borrow from an airport, that would allow him to get the shot 
cheaply and easily and without the need for divine intervention. How- 
ever, Lorimar's representative on the set was alarmed and tried to get 
people close to Ashby to dissuade him from such a bizarre idea. Aware 
that he was in danger of losing the scene, and possibly the movie, if 
Lorimar got wind of what he was doing, Ashby summoned the young 
man to him and said, "I'm going to ask you to make a decision right now 
that's going to affect the rest of your life. I'm going to ask you to decide 
whose side you're on. . . . This is it, kid. Decide. Are you on the side of 
art or commerce?"''" The "kid" chose to be loyal to Ashby. 

When the scene was shot. Sellers left his umbrella by the tree for the 
first two takes but for the third took it with him as he walked out across 
the water. In a moment of inspiration, he stopped, dipped the umbrella 
into the water, and then started walking once again. 

The new ending caused a great deal of controversy among the cast 
and crew, and Shirley MacLaine was one of its main detractors. Unlike 
Sellers and Douglas, she did not adapt quickly to working with Ashby 
and initially pressed him to explain Eve's actions, rather than searching 
for the motivation herself. 

"It's almost like he was never there, really," says MacLaine. "He'd 
walk on the set wearing basically a janitor's outfit, and everyone thought 
that he was a janitor or that he came to pull the cables. That was how 
powerful he was in his invisibility. But then, you thought about his his- 
tory, about how great he is, that's when you say, 'OK, I'm not hearing 
from him. He's not telling me what to do. He expects me to do it.' And 
that tends to stimulate creativity you didn't know you had."''^ 

A particular challenge for MacLaine was preparing for the scene in 


Being Hal Ashby 

the developing love story between Eve and Chance in which she miscon- 
strues his comment "I like to watch" as a request for her to masturbate 
for him. A disgusted Laurence Olivier turned down the role of Ben Rand 
because of this scene, and the prospect of performing it was understand- 
ably daunting for MacLaine. Ashby put off filming it for as long as pos- 
sible to give her time to get comfortable with the idea. When the day 
came, Ashby shot an incredible seventeen takes, trying to balance the 
needs of his actress with the knowledge that, for an edgy scene like this, 
he would need options in the editing room. After a while, MacLaine told 
Ashby she couldn't do another take. "Mmm, mmm!" Ashby laughed. 
"That is coffee, good to the last drop!'"*^ 

Lorimar had promised Ashby complete creative freedom, but it quickly 
became evident that "freedom" was relative. At times, Ashby had to 
play hardball, and he once threatened never to make another film for 
the studio unless he and his crew were granted the time and resources 
they needed. "Those guys back in the production office don't have a clue 
what goes on in my heart, in my head, and what I'm thinking about," 
Ashby said. "They don't know. They sit back there and say, 'Well, if he 
shoots tonight, that's going to cost $20,000.' So what!'"*^ 

Mostly, however, Ashby's enthusiasm for Being There, which he 
dubbed "our favorite film to be," eclipsed his concerns about Lorimar."*"* 
Jack and Beth Ashby found him in good spirits when they visited the set 
and recalled that when the actor playing the corpse of the "old man" 
(Chance's deceased former employer) sneezed while lying under a sheet, 
Ashby laughed uncontrollably for almost five minutes. The atmosphere 
was a world away from the tensions of The Hamster of Happiness, and 
Ashby's affection for his actors, crew, and visitors was widely remarked 
on. Bo Smith, who visited Asheville early on in shooting, wrote to thank 
Ashby, saying, "Although we found you in the midst of a hectic and 
intense schedule, you made us feel as comfortable and welcome as old 
friends. As we talked, my deep appreciation for your interest and at- 
tention was joined by an even richer realization. I came to understand 
that the qualities of humor, sensitivity, compassion, and extraordinary 
perception which so distinguish your films similarly distinguish you.""*^ 

These sentiments were shared by Caleb Deschanel, who relished 
working with someone like Ashby on only his third film. "Hal created 

Double Feature 


an environment of everyone feeling welcome and creative," Deschanel 
says. "To this day, it's one of the best experiences I've had on a movie."'*'' 
Ashby encouraged him to take risks, and when the cinematographer 
sensed that something was not quite right, Ashby always trusted his 
judgment. By the end of the shoot, Deschanel proclaimed, "Working 
with someone like Hal, you feel this incredible obligation and desire 
to do your best work.'"*^ Ashby, for his part, called Deschanel "really 
incredible. I can't find the words to tell you what I think of him.'"** 

The warmth on set was all the more welcome given the unseasonably 
cold weather. In Asheville, the crew had to work wrapped in ski jackets, 
hats, and gloves, wading through slush and snow in freezing thirty-five- 
mile-an-hour winds, and the weather was no better when they traveled 
north in March to shoot in Washington, D.C. It was a relief to all when 
they returned to Los Angeles to shoot the film's final scenes. 


Being There 

Then to be thrown into the total disorganization of release, 
and all those hard hours spent trying to get a campaign to- 
gether, and once done, not having anybody stand behind so 
it would be implemented as designed. What a waste — what a 
disappointment, what heartache. 
—Hal Ashby 

While Ashby was away in Asheville, United Artists had been enthusiasti- 
cally publicizing Coming Home in the buildup to awards season. There 
had been a huge Oscar push for Jane Fonda and Jon Voight as Best 
Actress and Actor candidates, and Ashby himself was being touted for 
Best Director. When nominations were announced in February, Coming 
Home was represented in the five main categories (Best Picture, Ac- 
tor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay), with Bruce Dern and Penelope 
Milford also up for Best Supporting Actor and Actress and Don Zim- 
merman in line for Best Editing on his very first film as chief editor. As 
the Academy Awards approached. Coming Home was racking up the 
honors at other ceremonies. Jon Voight had won Best Actor at Cannes 
the previous year, and he got the same accolade at the New York Film 
Critics' Awards, the National Board of Review awards, the Los Angeles 
Film Critics Awards, and the Golden Globes, with Jane Fonda also win- 
ning Best Actress at the latter two ceremonies. 

In early April, Ashby was finishing Being There in Pasadena, where 
the Pasadena Historical Society was doubling as Chance's original home. 
While all Hollywood anxiously awaited Oscar night, Ashby calmly fo- 
cused on the job at hand. During his visit to the set in Asheville, Daily 
News film critic Rex Reed had asked him about his feelings on being 
up for Best Director. "What a strain it is to be in competition!" Ashby 


Being There 


had replied with a smile. "This is not why I make films, but, of course, 
once you're there, you want to win."' He was keen to see Coming Home 
do well at the Oscars, but it wasn't personal glory he wanted, as he told 
Haskell Wexler (who had not been nominated this time) that if he won 
Best Director, he would have the statuette engraved this time — but with 
Wexler's name instead of his own. On the day of the Oscars, Jack and 
Beth Ashby and their daughter, Meredith, were visiting the set of Being 
There when Hal approached Beth and Meredith and asked, "Would you 
guys like to take these tickets and go to the Academy Awards?"^ 

In a frenzy of delight, mother and daughter dashed off to downtown 
Pasadena to buy evening dresses, jewelry, and shoes for their grand night 
out. Surrounded by limousines and Mercedeses, they turned up in their 
little brown Toyota sedan and walked up the red carpet to take the two 
seats (just behind Gregory Peck and among a sea of other famous faces) 
assigned to Hal and his guest. Hal and Jack, meanwhile, were back in 
Malibu Colony, sitting on Hal's bed watching the show on television, 
drinking beer and eating potato chips. 

Outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the awards were 
being held, activists protested another big Oscar contender, The Deer 
Hunter, Michael Cimino's hawkish portrayal of the Vietnam War, which 
had particularly angered the Vietnam Veterans against the War. Despite 
fears expressed by other veterans that both films on the war would be 
overlooked in favor of Warren Beatty's decidedly uncontroversial Heaven 
Can Wait, Coming Home and The Deer Hunter ended up sharing the 
major awards. Ashby registered little emotion when Cimino was named 
Best Director and then The Deer Hunter won Best Picture, after already 
taking Best Editing, Sound, and Supporting Actor. But to his delight. 
Coming Home won both Best Actor and Best Actress awards, becom- 
ing only the fourth film — after It Happened One Night (1934), One 
Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and Network (1976) — ever to do 
so. Fonda was handed her statuette by Shirley MacLaine and then gave 
part of her acceptance speech in sign language because of the heightened 
awareness of handicapped people that the film had given her. Voight, 
who had brought Lou Carello, one of his paraplegic friends from the 
film, to the ceremony, was sobbing by the time he acknowledged his debt 
to "the people in the chairs and the veterans."^ Ashby was disappointed 


Being Hal Ashby 

that The Deer Hunter, which he disagreed with ideologically, had done 
so well, but it was nonetheless impressive that on the glitziest night of 
the year, the spotlight had been thrown onto Vietnam. 

It was testament to the impact of Coming Home that, as part of its 
Oscar coverage, the Los Angeles Times ran a big article on both Lou Ca- 
rello and Ken Augustine, another paraplegic who featured prominently in 
the film. "I'm very happy," Augustine said of the film's Oscar triumphs. 
"I guess I'm particularly happy for Jon. But we won, too. In fact, as far as 
I'm concerned Coming Home won it all a long time ago because it gave 80 
people a job and something to do.'"* 

Ironically, the other category Coming Home won was Best Screen- 
play, a remarkable achievement considering that the film was essentially 
written as filming went along. Bob Jones and Waldo Salt happily col- 
lected their awards along with Nancy Dowd, whom a Writers Guild 
of America arbitration had awarded a "story by" credit because of the 
script she had written for Fonda back in 1973. 

Haskell Wexler wrote to Ashby, "I watched the Awards on TV and 
thought seriously on where the movie making ability is. You are in a 
separate league! You have more all round film making talent and human 
sensitivity than Cimino would ever think of. Not to take from them, but 
Jon and Jane and 'the Writers' were up there mostly due to your skill. I 
hope you don't forget that! " ' 

A week later, Ashby had the last shot of Being There in the can. 
After Sellers's final scene, the crew clapped, whistled, and cheered for 
fifteen minutes while Sellers and Ashby stood by teary eyed. Ashby's 
admiration for Sellers had grown during filming, and he maintained that 
what Being There "proves to a whole generation is that the man's a fuck- 
ing genius! Peter Sellers has every right to sit up there on his mountain in 
Switzerland and scream, 'I'm all right. Jack! Screw you all!'"* 

Though Sellers's work was done, Ashby had long, hard months of 
editing ahead of him, during which he would also be supervising the 
editing of The Hamster of Happiness. Work on the film had already 
begun under the guidance of Amy Jones, a young editor on whom he had 
taken a chance. Ashby's offices and editing base had moved from Appian 
Way to Calabasas, a secluded settlement between the suburban sprawl 
of the San Fernando Valley and Ashby's home in Malibu, and it was 
now much easier for him to shuttle between home and work. Though 

Being There 


initially he took a hands-off approach with Jones and Don Zimmerman, 
he was soon cutting frantically, a joint in his hand (to help him focus, he 
said), as he moved back and forth between Being There in one room and 
Hamster in the other. 

"He was like a concert pianist," says Charles Clapsaddle, his per- 
sonal assistant at the time. "His hands would fly, and he would be in 
there for hours, working like a madman. You wouldn't be in there for 
too long because you got a contact high off him!"^ As Ashby had imag- 
ined, if he got stuck trying to solve a particular sequence in one film, he 
would simply leave it, move next door, work on the other film, and then 
return to the problem with a fresh perspective. 

Before he started editing, however, he had to deal with the situation 
at Lorimar. During the shooting of Being There, he'd had a huge argu- 
ment with Jack Schwartzman, who had tried to transfer Ashby's rights to 
The Hawkline Monster over to Lorimar, which would have meant Ashby 
losing control of the property. Previously, Schwartzman had expressed 
the opinion that Ashby's draft of the screenplay was not up to scratch, 
and Ashby now concluded that Schwartzman had been angling for his 
own screenplay of Hawkline (which was only fifty pages long and, in 
Ashby's words, "way off the mark") to be used instead.^ Ashby, who had 
already spent $100,000 developing the film, suspected that Schwartzman 
was now trying to wrest the project away from him, using their long- 
established trust to con him into signing it away. 

While shooting in Asheville, Ashby wrote to Lorimar boss Merv 
Adelson, saying he would pay the company back any funds it had spent 
on Hawkline (thus allowing him to regain control of the project), and 
adding, "I don't want Jack Schwartzman anywhere near me. I certainly 
don't want him to represent me in any way whatsoever, and I do not 
want him as executive producer or executive anything on any film I ever 
do, including Being There. . . . The man just let me down. I trusted him 
and he didn't come through. It makes me sad."' 

Ashby's dealings with Schwartzman's company, JS Productions, 
abruptly ceased, but fortunately his relationship with Merv Adelson 
remained intact. And although Ashby had kept Andy Braunsberg at 
arm's length during the filming of Being There, by the summer of 1979 
he was considering forming a business partnership with his producer, 
seeing an opportunity to establish his own production company and ere- 


Being Hal Ashby 

ate the Utopian setup he had aimed for with the short-hved D.F. Films. 
Recalling the time he and Ashby spent in preproduction on Being There, 
Braunsberg says, "We had similar views on film and similar ambitions, 
and we started talking about a partnership."^" Braunsberg's business 
sense coupled with Ashby's creative talents would be a formidable com- 
bination, and if they had their own company, then Ashby's contact with 
Lorimar could be reduced to an absolute minimum. Moreover, it was a 
chance to help talented young directors make their first films and work 
with established directors on projects they could not set up elsewhere. 

As ever, Ashby was being inundated with offers to direct. Already in 
1979, he had been approached about an adaptation of Norman Mailer's 
new book. The Executioner's Song, Ladyhawke, Nine to Five, and even 
Warhead, an unofficial James Bond spin-off. He himself was making 
inquiries about Animal Factory, another book by Straight Time author 
Edward Bunker, as well as Creator, a script by Jeremy Leven. He was, 
however, most excited about the prospect of working with Sellers and Terry 
Southern on Southern's audacious comic creation Grossing Out — about 
a toy designer who invents a missile, "the ultimate toy" every government 
in the world is desperate to get its hands on. 

However, The Fiamster of FFappiness, which Southern called Ash- 
by's "Big Bob and Fabsy-babsy epic" (a reference to Blake and Harris), 
became a more pressing concern as the summer wore on." By the time 
Ashby got involved in the editing of Fiamster, Amy Jones was already 
on her fourth or fifth cut. When he screened rough versions of Being 
There and FFamster to friends and Lorimar executives in late summer 
1979, it was clear that the latter was going to be considerably more of a 
challenge, both editorially and in terms of finding its audience. Writing 
about it later, Ashby remembered, "Fiamster suffered most. Editor, Amy 
Jones was far less experienced than Don [Zimmerman], and Being There 
was just a more captivating film. FFamster was a problem child, they 
[Lorimar] didn't know how to sell it."'^ 

Audience reactions to Hamster suggested numerous flaws: people 
found the story confusing, thought the music was at odds with the mes- 
sage of the film, could not understand Barbara Harris's dialogue, and 
didn't know whether they were watching a comedy or a drama. The 
consensus was that Ashby and Amy Jones had been under too much 
pressure to get the film ready for a fall release and that more time was 

Being There 


needed for editing. The release date was pushed back, and even the title 
was rethought, as The Hamster of Happiness was confusing and didn't 
appeal to a wide enough demographic. Market research was done on 
alternative titles, and after testing the public's reaction to Bluebird of 
Happiness, Second Hand Hearts, and Neon Sunsets, Lorimar chose 
Second Hand Hearts. 

Lorimar's new release plan was to go all out to get Being There 
ready for a Christmas opening and Oscar consideration and follow with 
Second Hand Hearts in the spring of 1980. With only three months to 
work on the editing, Ashby knew he faced "a tough crunch" to finish 
Being There in time." "This is the most delicate film I've ever worked 
with as an editor," said Ashby. "The balance is just incredible. It could 
be ruined in a second if you let it become too broad."" He was forced 
to cut a scene where Chance, who assumes the characteristics of people 
he meets or sees on television, imitates a homosexual man he has been 
talking to. The scene got big laughs, but it broke the delicate balance it 
was so essential to maintain. 

Don Zimmerman had previously been editing the film to Ashby's 
specifications, but in the last six or seven weeks before the December 
19 release date, Ashby took over cutting himself, with Zimmerman by 
his side. He was the quicker of the two, and time was of the essence. By 
December, Ashby was working seven days a week and barely leaving the 
cutting room, let alone seeing daylight. He would start work at 3 a.m., 
work until sunset, go home for a few hours' sleep, and be editing again 
by 3 A.M. the next morning. 

Even during the last few days, Ashby was searching out new bits of 
film, takes that were better than, or just different from, the ones Zimmer- 
man had selected, as he tried to further tighten the picture. Being There 
was to have a limited release in New York and Los Angeles cinemas, and 
Ashby delivered a final print to Lorimar for the East Coast opening but 
kept working on a few final touches. He had come up with the innovative 
idea of using the outtakes of Peter Sellers corpsing during his "Now get 
this, honky" speech over the closing credits of the film, a ploy to keep the 
audience in their seats until the lights came up. At 4 a.m. on the morn- 
ing of the opening, Ashby made his last adjustment before delivering the 
print in person — complete with new closing credits sequence — to one of 
the two cinemas in Los Angeles that was showing Being There. 


Being Hal Ashby 

After visiting that cinema for a week and watching the audience re- 
actions, Ashby decided to use that ending for every print of the film. Be- 
ing There had an American Film Institute screening in Washington, and 
in the audience were Lorimar staff and Jerzy Kosinski, none of whom 
knew about the different end credits. They were extremely surprised to 
see them, but if the change upset either, it is unlikely that Ashby would 
have felt anything but quiet satisfaction as he had recently experienced 
problems with both. 

Kosinski had contested Bob Jones's tentative cowriter credit and 
demanded that he have the sole credit. (Interestingly, it was Jones who 
was solely credited as "Writer" on the crew list issued during shooting.) 
Before the film was completed, Kosinski had distanced himself from it 
(telling journalists such things as, "It will be Ashby's film. I am not a 
filmmaker," and, "Film is not my medium. It's like tennis to me. I don't 
like to do it"), but with so much praise being lavished on Being There, 
he changed his tune.'^ Kosinski took his case to the Writers Guild of 
America, which would have dismissed his case immediately except for 
the fact that Kosinski apparently submitted one of Jones's drafts as his 
own. Accordingly, the guild found in his favor, denying Jones any credit 
on the film. When Ashby publicly stated that Jones's version featured 
"massive changes" and that what "went on in each scene was greatly 
different," Kosinski countered by claiming that Ashby had confided in 
him that he wanted to give Jones a credit to pay him back for previous 
unacknowledged writing work.'* (The fact that Jones had, just months 
earlier, received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his work on 
Coming Home makes this claim highly implausible.) 

Ashby's beef with Lorimar arose over its handling of Being There's 
publicity. After working flat out to ready the film for release, he emerged 
from his Calabasas offices to find that the marketing campaign he favored 
had been dropped and the film was being promoted on the strength of 
the romance between Sellers and MacLaine. "They created a lie," Ashby 
complained. "They were trying to make it seem as if there was this tre- 
mendous love story because people like to go to see movies about men 
and women. But that's not what this picture was about." His deal with 
Lorimar had promised significant input into marketing, and for Ashby 
that was "one of the key appeals" to him as a filmmaker: "It always 
hurts me to do battle over the marketing of my films. I have a pretty 

Being There 


good idea of what I'm trying to say, and one of the goals of marketing is 
to convey some of that so people will go to see the film."^'' 

Being There is seen as Ashby's masterpiece, but it is also the quintessen- 
tial Hal Ashby film. Its gentleness, compassion, and optimism, as well as 
its intelligence and understated humor, are all manifestations of Ashby's 
own personality. Chance has interesting parallels with Ashby, who was 
almost his inverse alter ego. Though Chance is as straightforward as Ash- 
by was complex, they had in common a softness of voice and a graceful, 
gentle approach to life that made both much loved and revered, as well 
as a desire to step back and watch silently rather than comment or get 
involved. For Chance, his work (in the garden) dominates his thoughts 
and is the only thing with which he is truly, profoundly comfortable; 
Ashby's relationship with film was identical. 

In addition to a trademark directorial cameo (in the background of 
the Washington Post offices). Being There also bears Ashby's distinctive 
stamp through his continuing preoccupation with water and its links 
with death. In the iconic ending. Chance wanders into the woods during 
Ben Rand's funeral, tends to an ailing sapling, and then walks away over 
the water. The sequence has strong echoes of Bruce Bern's watery exit 
in Coming Home and is a typically ambiguous Ashby ending, one that 
leaves us doubtful that Chance will ever return. 

Despite the fact that Being There came out at Christmas time, when 
numerous other films were opening, its critical reception was nothing 
short of rapturous. Vincent Canby, Andrew Sarris, and Rex Reed im- 
mediately put it on their lists of the year's top films, and it got raves 
from seemingly every critic who saw it. Sellers drew the greatest praise, 
with most reviews calling his performance either his greatest ever or 
his best work in years, but the supporting cast of Shirley MacLaine, 
Jack Warden, and particularly Melvyn Douglas was also highly lauded. 
Unfortunately, the focus was so much on Sellers that the efforts of those 
behind the camera were almost totally ignored, with little recognition 
for the remarkable work of Mike Haller and Caleb Deschanel. Even 
Ashby, whose directorial powers were arguably at their zenith, was left 
in the shade by Sellers, though reviews usually gave him a brief lauda- 
tory mention. 

Considering its critical reception. Being There did not make as big 


Being Hal Ashby 

an impression on awards voters as might have been expected. Peter Sell- 
ers won Best Actor (Musical/Comedy) at the Golden Globes but lost 
out to Dustin Hoffman for Robert Benton's Kramer vs. Kramer at the 
Oscars, and Melvyn Douglas picked up Best Supporting Actor prizes at 
the Oscars and the Golden Globes as well as from both the New York 
and the Los Angeles Film Critics awards. Ashby received just one Best 
Director nomination, at the Golden Globes, but did not win. 

In the midst of awards season. The Last Detail producer Gerry Ayres 
wrote to Ashby praising Being There and saying, "I continue to marvel 
that you achieve what no one else is in this town. You are getting the 
companies to make films that their every instinct tells them not to, and 
you're making them with a high level of art and they are working at the 
box office.'"^ 

Being There was indeed doing very well commercially, quieting the 
naysayers who had called it a "one-joke film." It took $10 million in 

North American rentals and was Lorimar's biggest-ever hit both domes- 
tically and internationally, yet everyone thought it could have done bet- 
ter, and Lorimar blamed Ashby for the film's lack of success. The studio 
felt that letting him use the print advertising campaign of his choice 
(featuring Chance in silhouette) had negatively affected box office. Con- 
versely, Ashby lay the blame on Lorimar and pointed to the fact that 
Merv Adelson had vetoed East Coast radio ads, saying, "Nobody listens 
to the radio in New York," and that Lorimar had marketed the film 
only tentatively on its nationwide release.^' His marketing guru, Mike 
Kaplan, concurred, deeming Lorimar's promotional push for the re- 
release in September 1980 (to cash in on election fever) "half-hearted."^" 
Disagreements over the promotion of Being There marked the beginning 
of tensions between Ashby and Lorimar that were to continue, in one 
form or another, for the best part of a decade. 

Writing to Adelson just before the fall rerelease, Ashby complained 
about the ad execs who had not bothered to watch Being There with a 
paying audience, and had thus classed it as "a special little film," rather 
than going to "watch those audiences rock with laughter, and know 
they had a gold mine. People do love to laugh — lots of them pay lots of 
money to do just that, and being there gives them all they want, and 
it doesn't leave them with holes waiting for the next joke. I went to the 
theatre a number of times, and saw it with many different, but paying, 

Being There 


audiences, and I swear to you the way they responded was something 
to see. Merv, they honest to God lost us milhons of dollars with their 
stupid ass 'little — special' bullshit. ... It makes me real aware of how 
many million will see the film and what it has to give to them."^^ 

Being There had been released as "A Northstar International Pic- 
ture," "Northstar" being the name chosen by Ashby and Andy Brauns- 
berg for their newly formed production company. Northstar, housed in 
the famous Selznick building, had a three-year nonexclusive contract 
with Lorimar that allowed Ashby to make films elsewhere should he 
wish to do so. The formation of the company was announced in late 
January; Lorimar promised $50 million in backing for the company and 
a salary of $750,0 00 per year for Ashby. Five films were planned for 
1980, and the first of these was already in production: Bob Rafelson's 
The Postman Always Rings Twice, starring Jack Nicholson, who was 
finally getting to make the film he and Ashby had planned as Three 
Cornered Circle eight years earlier. 

Ashby wanted to make Northstar a haven where filmmakers could 
create daring, original, and successful films. Crucial to this was the fact 
that Ashby and Braunsberg — two creative people with a firsthand under- 
standing of filmmaking — were running the show, not the studios. Ashby 
revealed a lot about the roots of his problems with authority when he 
explained the setup at Northstar by saying, "I'm not a kid anymore who 
has to go up to daddy and say, 'Daddy, I was thinking about riding the 
bike 100 miles an hour down to the corner.' 'Well, I don't know if you 
ought to do that son, I don't know if it'll sell.'"^^ 

Though at the time Braunsberg stressed how close Northstar's re- 
lationship with Lorimar was, he now says that there was no script ap- 
proval from Lorimar, as studio representatives never read anything, but 
"if there was glory or profit, it was OK."^^ The projects that Ashby and 
Braunsberg were hoping to make certainly suggested that there would be 
an abundance of both. Their formidable list of films mooted for produc- 
tion included Lie Down in Darkness, from the novel by William Sty- 
ron, to be directed by Jack Nicholson; Barfly, Barbet Schroeder's 1987 
film of Charles Bukowski's screenplay; The Dreamers, Orson Welles's 
ultimately unfinished cinematic interpretation of short stories by Isak 
Dinesen; another Welles film, based on Jim Harrison's novel Revenge, 
that was to star Nicholson; Vicksburg, an American Civil War film from 


Being Hal Ashby 

Robert Altman; and Black Sands, to be directed by Brazilian director 
Bruno Baretto from Oscar-winning writer Bo Goldman's script. 

Ashby also saw an opportunity to give talented, up-and-coming 
directors a first shot, just as Jewison had done with him. "I've always 
wanted to have a company," he said, "because I want to help young 
filmmakers. It's stupid not to do it. And morally, you've got to do it. 
The studios don't have a clue, when it comes to new filmmakers. When 
they have little flurries, and they try new filmmakers, nine times out 
of ten what they do is listen to the guy that talks the fastest."^'' Ashby 
was hoping to get Jonathan Demme, a director he had befriended in the 
early 1970s, to direct Jeremy Leven's Creator and give the University of 
Southern California film grad Jamie Foley (whom he had met at a party 
while pursuing actress Colleen Camp) a chance to bring his own script. 
Cowboys of the American Night, to the big screen. Also on Ashby's 
wish list of films to make at Northstar were, inevitably. The Hawkline 
Monster and Henderson the Rain King as well as Grossing Out. 

Grossing Out's future, however, had been put in doubt after Sellers 
saw Ashby's outtake ending, which he felt undermined the impact of 
Being There. In a rushed and emotional telex sent to Ashby in March 
1980, he said, "I must reiterate once again, that the out-takes you have 
placed over the credits do a grave injustice to the picture for the sake 
of a few cheap laughs. It breaks the spell, do you understand? Do you 
understand, it breaks the spell! I'm telling you how it breaks the spell 
and as I said in my previous telegram there's not much point in the film 
going to Europe as I saw it last night."^^ Sellers believed that the outtakes 
had hurt his chance of winning the Best Actor Oscar, so, in an attempt 
to repair their friendship, Ashby changed the European prints to have 
the regular credits that Sellers favored. Ashby was apparently forgiven as 
by midsummer there were reports that Sellers would make Grossing Out 
for an enormous $3 million plus a percentage cut of profits. However, on 
July 24, 1980, Sellers died in London after suffering a massive heart at- 
tack. Southern, who was always keen to work with Ashby, tried to keep 
the project alive after Sellers's death. "There is going to be a gigantic 
audience for the kind of film we are talking about," he told Ashby. "And 
there is bound to be a veritable deluge of such films within the next 
couple of years. Why not have the first and the best???"^^ To Ashby, 
however, doing the film without Sellers was inconceivable. 


Lookin' to Get Out 

Directors who have the reputation of always coming in on 
schedule are in steady demand even if they've had a long line 
of box-office failures and their work is consistently mediocre, 
and . . . directors who are perfectionists are shunned as if 
they were lepers — unless, like Hal Ashby, they've had some 
recent hits. 
— Pauline Kael 

But you must understand if somebody says me, then they are 
automatically saying the film. For we are one and the same. 
—Hal Ashby 

Once again, it was time for Ashby to line up his next film. Given the 
range of projects on the table, Lookin' to Get Out was a typically idio- 
syncratic choice. In the mid-1970s, the singer Chip Taylor had introduced 
his brother, Jon Voight, to his manager, Al Schwartz, who was writing 
a screenplay with dialogue that Taylor thought particularly impressive. 
Schwartz, who had quit high school after ninth grade and learned life's 
lessons hustling on the New York City streets, had produced thirty- 
odd pages about the misadventures of two gamblers in New York City. 
Voight was so taken with the material that he started helping Schwartz 
with the script and trying to get the film made. Voight approached Burt 
Reynolds, Bruce Dern, and Peter Falk and actually convinced James 
Caan and Alan Arkin to play the leads, until Arkin pulled out. Voight 
resisted acting in the film himself, but he says, "I finally came to the 
point where I was looking at a lot of scripts and I admitted at last that 
the script I had in my hand was the best thing I had."^ 

Once Voight decided to play Alex Kovac, the compulsive gambler 
heavily based on Schwartz, he quickly brought character actor Burt 



Being Hal Ashby 

Young and Ann-Margret on board to play Alex's best friend, Jerry, 
and old flame, Patti, respectively. The film was a shambolic comedy, 
virgin territory for Voight, and the actor felt that Ashby, whom he color- 
fully described as "an extremely gifted humorist, witty and bright, part 
W. C. Fields and part some kind of mystic," was just the person to guide 
him through it.^ With a package in place, Voight approached Ashby with 
the script. "I said, 'Read it this time,'" Voight remembers, "because I'd 
showed it to him about six months earlier, and I'm never sure if Hal 
actually reads anything. He got hurt, he got insulted, but he came back 
and said, 'I think we can do it.' . . . With his help, I knew I could solve 
any problems with the film, because he cares as much as I do."' 

Ashby asked Jerry Hellman whether he would produce the film, but 
Hellman turned him down and advised him against directing it. There 
was a feeling among a number of Ashby's close friends that he was doing 
it for the wrong reasons — as a favor to Voight and because it was ready 
to go with a cast and a script, rather than because he was genuinely 
passionate about it. Nonetheless, when Voight's friend Robert Schaffel, 
the man who had started Crawdaddy magazine in the 1960s, came on 
board as producer, things began to get rolling. 

Lorimar approved Lookin' to Get Out as the third film in Ashby's 
three-picture deal, and a start date of February 1980 was announced. 
However, complications repeatedly pushed production back. After three 
months spending almost every hour of every day rushing Being There to 
completion, Ashby was exhausted. "I've never worked as hard as I did 
editing Being There," he wrote. "It damn near did me in.'"* 

Though the Northstar deal was announced in late January 1980, 
because the contract negotiations were still ongoing, the company had 
yet to see any money from Lorimar. Back in September, during the first 
Northstar talks, Merv Adelson had told Ashby and Braunsberg that they 
wouldn't get any development money until the deal was done but had 
assured them, as Ashby recalled, that "everything we would want, or 
need, wasn't any farther than a phone call away."^ However, Ashby was 
having to put tens of thousands of dollars of his own money into the 
company to keep operations going while his phone calls to Adelson ask- 
ing for funds were brushed away with the promise that money would be 
forthcoming — once the deal was signed. 

Ashby was still trying to save Second Hand Hearts. He had laid off 
some of the editorial staff but had kept faith with Amy Jones, convinced 

Lookin' to Get Out 


that the problem was Barbara Harris's inflexible performance. However, 
as he looked more closely at what footage Jones had and hadn't used, 
he concluded, "My inexperienced editor had been wrong about the film 
going together."* Realizing that Jones's editing approach was probably 
fundamentally flawed, he started looking at every scene, essentially going 
back to square one. As the start time for Lookin' was put back again and 
again, he spent most of March and April in the editing room working on 
Second Hand Hearts. The projected spring release date was scrapped as 
Ashby tried to ensure his "problem child" was in the best possible shape 
when he let it out into the world. He still believed he could make the 
film good and further felt that if he could influence its distribution and 
marketing, it would find its audience. 

When he wasn't in the editing room trying to coax Hearts back to 
health, he was prepping Lookin' to Get Out. Schwartz and Voight were 
busy polishing their rough diamond of a script, and Ashby was oversee- 
ing the rewrites as well as doing some work on the script himself. During 
preproduction, Ashby admitted, "I'm not quite sure where we're going 
with it. In the end, I think it's a film about learning to let go."^ Though 
Alex Kovac was Schwartz's alter ego, one reason Ashby was drawn to 
the project was that he felt a connection with the character himself. For 
him, letting go meant facing issues from his past, and he drew on his 
own experiences in his contributions to the script. In one of Ashby's 
scenes, Jerry's parents discuss the reasons for Alex's problems in life: 

feldman's living room — Jerry sits alone on the couch listen- 
ing to Mother and Father in the Pantry 

Mother (V.O. [voice-over]) It's never been easy for him, Har- 
old. Remember when he lost his father? 

Father (V.O.) His father was never around anyway."* 

Ashby had never directly addressed the impact of his father's death 
in his films, and this brief exchange was the closest he would ever come 
to doing so. In just a few words, it reveals the huge significance he placed 
on the event and the effect that it had on the person he became. The 
scene was ultimately cut, but Ashby's own life was similarly imposed 
onto Alex Kovac's in another equally revealing aspect of the script. One 
of the important plot developments revolves around Alex's discovery 


Being Hal Ashby 

that Patti was pregnant with his child when he left her five years earlier 
and that he has been unaware that he is a father. In the original script, 
the child was a boy called Josh; however (probably under Ashby's influ- 
ence), the character became a girl, Tosha. 

This story line resonated deeply with the situation surrounding Ash- 
by's first marriage and his (lack of a) relationship with his daughter, 
Leigh. Though he had told Eileen that he wanted to meet Leigh "when 
everything is right," years had passed, and he had never arranged to do 
so. Leigh herself had made a number of attempts to contact Ashby, but he 
never returned her calls or answered her letters. In 1980, he was a fifty- 
year-old man who had never had any contact with his thirty-two -year- 
old daughter except for the first few months of her life, and he seemed 
pathologically incapable of remedying the situation. He could tell himself 
she was best off without him, but his decision not to allow her into his 
life had been made only to protect himself from his guilt. In the same 
way that the ending of Coming Home drew on Ashby's preoccupation 
with swimming to his death, so the scene in Lookin' where Alex meets 
Tosha allowed Ashby to play out a meeting with Leigh and vicariously 
experience that moment. Ashby's fear of commitment is palpable in the 
encounter: Alex is introduced to Tosha as a friend of her mother's, and 
after their brief but touching conversation, he is able to walk away. 

Just days before production was due to start on Lookin' to Get Out, a 
major crisis arose when Lorimar declared that the Northstar contract be- 
ing negotiated was "not what they were talking about."' In light of these 
problems, Merv Adelson suggested pushing back production until May so 
that Ashby would not be shooting while preoccupied by unresolved issues. 
While attempts were made to clarify what the contract would include, 
Ashby, along with Haller, Voight, Schaffel, Haskell Wexler, and produc- 
tion designer Bob Boyle jetted off to scout locations. In New York, Ashby 
researched the gambling scene and later met up with Melvyn Douglas, 
with whom he talked late into the night, despite Douglas's failing health; 
in Vegas, everyone stayed at the legendary MGM Grand Hotel, which 
was to be the setting for most of the film's action. 

Back in Los Angeles, with a week to go before filming began, Ashby 
discovered that he was in financial trouble: because of the contract de- 
lays, no money had been forthcoming from Lorimar, and Ashby had been 

Lookin' to Get Out 


keeping Northstar afloat with his own money. In what he would later 
describe as a "not enough time to think" mistake, he wrote an impas- 
sioned, handwritten letter to Merv Adelson in an attempt to temporarily 
resolve his company's — and his own — financial difficulties.^" Ashby and 
Adelson had an oral agreement that the director was to receive $1 million 
to direct Lookin'; however, Ashby's letter asked for $1.25 million so that 
he could pay his staff until the contract negotiations were concluded, 
which would not be until after Lookin' to Get Out wrapped. "I need 
the money," Ashby wrote. "I have heavy obligations, which have become 
even heavier, and I'm sure the less stress I have regards being broke and 
owing money, especially while shooting, the better off I and the film will 
be and that is not a threat, it's just common sense."" 

The personal and heartfelt nature of Ashby's note had the required 
effect, and, as a gesture of good faith, Adelson agreed to pay him the ex- 
tra money. It was a relief to Ashby, who looked back on the period from 
September 1979 to May 1980 — the editing of Being There, the problems 
surrounding its release and marketing, the recutting of Second Hand 
Hearts, and the Northstar contract crisis and financial difficulties — and 
called it "as horrendous a time as I've ever gone through. "^^ With one 
problem at least temporarily solved, Ashby spent his last few "free" days 
before leaving for Las Vegas finishing his cut of Second Hand Hearts. 
He had lengthened some sequences, shortened others, and replaced some 
footage altogether, and at last he began to feel like the film was coming 
together. In the last available hours, he laid out sound effects and music 
and left detailed notes on how the editing was to be completed. He left 
the editing room at midnight on Saturday night, returned home for four 
hours' sleep, and then climbed into his red Mercedes and set out on the 
five-hour drive from Malibu to Las Vegas. 

Ashby was on edge because of recent tensions, so much so that when 
he arrived in Vegas and found that there was a problem with his hotel 
room, he got into his car and drove home again. Panic ensued, but it 
was still a few days before shooting began, and Jon Voight volunteered 
to bring Ashby back. He went to Malibu Colony and joked with Ashby 
about the situation, putting him at ease. "Let's go back, fight the fights, 
and get this thing done," he said.^^ 

"Lookin' to Get Out was the start of things going wrong," says Jeff 


Being Hal Ashby 

Wexler. "It was done as a favor to Jon Voight. We started the film with 
a few characters, a loose idea, and basically no script."''' The film was 
to have been shot in fourteen weeks at a cost of $12 million, but its 
troubled production period doubled to twenty-eight weeks, and it came 
in about $4 million over budget. It was decidedly strange that the film 
had such a high budget to start with, as it was essentially an intimate, 
low-key piece about friendship whose style and focus on character rather 
than plot were reminiscent of John Cassavetes. But because Las Vegas 
and New York City were expensive locations and elaborate sets had to 
be built on the lot, it had a massively inflated budget. 

Since making Coming Home, which had won a Best Screenplay Os- 
car despite not having a shooting script, Ashby had grown confident of 
his ability to elevate a less than perfect screenplay. "One of the reasons 
he made Lookin' to Get Out with a lousy script," Haskell Wexler ex- 
plains, "was he was very arrogant about what he could fix in the editing. 
Rather than try and rewrite it, he would say, 'We'll shoot this, and I'll 
cut to the reaction of this guy, it'll be fine.""' However, Al Schwartz was 
on set every day, and the script was constantly being rewritten (at one 
stage it ballooned to a massive 196 pages) until the end of September. 

Despite worries about the logistics of shooting in Las Vegas, the 
company's time there was highly successful. Ashby and Voight were both 
put up in lavish suites at the MGM Grand, their main location, and the 
hotel staff did everything to ensure filming went as smoothly as possible. 
The company was allowed to shoot in the hotel and its casino during the 
day, the paging system was switched off while they were rolling, and, to 
Ashby and the crew's great relief, the gamblers were so engrossed that 
they didn't stare at the camera. 

Voight and Ashby were happy to be working together once again, 
and Ashby had brought together lots of other familiar faces — Bob Boyle, 
Pablo Ferro, Dianne Schroeder, and Haskell and Jeff Wexler. It was, 
however, the first film since Shampoo on which Chuck Mulvehill was 
absent, as he was producing another Northstar movie. The Postman 
Always Rings Twice (1981). He had turned down Ashby's invitation 
to run Northstar ("I just saw a fuckin' mess," Mulvehill says) and felt 
it was time for him to work independently of Ashby, the man he had 
idolized — and whose dirty work he had done — for so long. Though 
Mulvehill and Ashby's relationship had been mutually beneficial, it had 

Lookin' to Get Out 


become uncomfortably close. "I was under his mesmerizing spell," says 
Mulvehill. "There was a whole lot of convoluted psychological webs.""" 

Arguably, Mike Haller had taken Mulvehill's place as Ashby's closest 
friend, and at the time of Lookin' to Get Out, Ashby was trying to get 
him his first film as a director, on an unpromising cop movie. Flasher. 
Twentieth Century-Fox offered Haller a contract to direct it (if Ashby 
and Braunsberg were the producers), but the terms were so unfavorable 
that Haller ultimately passed, and the project was shelved. At the time, 
however, Haller was still hoping to get started on Flasher, so Bob Boyle 
was brought in as the production designer on Lookin', and Haller took 
on an uncredited role as a creative assistant to Ashby on the film. (In the 
credits of Lookin' to Get Out, Ashby extends special thanks to Haller 
for "Bemg Here.") 

"Mike Haller had a lot to do with taking Hal's ideas and developing 
them," Voight explained. "He's like a Jeffersonian personality. Mike's 
real quiet, has a toothpick in his mouth, and he's looking at things like 
a painter, like a visual artist. And he'll come up with these ideas: he'll 
just pick at whatever you do. No matter what you do, he'll have six other 
different ways, and he'll pick the most outlandish, and he'll write a little 
something like that. Sometimes he comes up with wonderful, wonderful 
ideas. He just pokes around, and that's what Hal would want him to 
do." ^7 

One of Haller's ideas came from his discovery of a huge room in the 
MGM Grand with doors all the way down two sides. It was worked into 
the film by having Voight and Burt Young find themselves there while 
they are being pursued by bookies they owe money to. In a surreal, in- 
spired chase sequence, Voight and Young try door after door, all locked, 
as they try to get out of the cavernous room while engaged in a petty 
argument about Young's ex-wife. It was a quintessential Ashby moment, 
simultaneously surreal and emotionally incisive, and the kind of scene 
that no other filmmaker would think to put in a film. 

Two weeks into filming, Ashby and company had a moment of 
genuine drama when their filming of Siegfried and Roy's famous stage 
spectacle went horribly wrong. Ashby was shooting a routine involving 
the two entertainers and one of their trained tigers when the tiger got 
agitated. Pablo Ferro recalls that the animal was startled when Haskell 
Wexler put up a new light, but Voight reveals there was more to it than 


Being Hal Ashby 

that. "I was fooling around with Burt, who was making funny faces 
and going 'Ooooh!' at the tiger," Voight confesses, "and then the light 
glinted off his glasses, and the tiger got spooked." At first it refused to 
come out of its cage; then it suddenly rushed into a section of the audi- 
ence of extras, dragging Roy with it. Ashby's assistant director, Chuck 
Myers, calmly told everybody to let the trainers handle the tiger, and 
further drama was avoided. Three people with minor injuries were sent 
to the hospital, the other extras were quickly asked to sign disclaimer 
forms, and filming resumed two hours later. 

Just the day before, an exasperated Ashby had fired his four editors 
back in Los Angeles because of his dissatisfaction with their work. They 
had failed to spot that one of the shots he had sent back to them in Los 
Angeles was slightly out of focus, and he had concluded that they weren't 
watching the footage properly. "We were all working on the film, very 
young and inexperienced, and he was in Las Vegas," remembers one 
of the editors, Eva Gardos. "It was a high-tension situation, and we 
were far too inexperienced."" Ashby wanted to give young editors their 
first break at Northstar, but his novice crew was a huge frustration to 
him. Ashby had also noticed that the dailies were sent late and out of 
sync. One night, out of pure frustration, he sat down in his hotel room 
after a full day's filming and set about syncing up the dailies. The last 
straw was when he received a print of Second Hand Hearts, which had 
allegedly been completed according to his instructions but was far from 
what he had envisioned. He found himself spending every available mo- 
ment undoing the mistakes of his "totally inept editorial crew" who, to 
add insult to injury, were reinstated because they had been terminated 
without proper cause. 

It was mid -June when filming wrapped in Las Vegas. The last scenes 
there were between Jon Voight and his five-year-old daughter, Angelina 
Jolie (playing Alex's daughter, Tosha), who was making her first screen 
appearance. The day after, Ashby drove back home with his assistant, 
Charles Clapsaddle, and dropped him at his home on the Calabasas 
Canyon Road. Just minutes later, overworked and exhausted, Ashby 
fell asleep at the wheel. The car drifted sideways, and he woke up to 
find it smashed up and leaking oil; it was pure luck that he emerged 

Back in Los Angeles, Ashby was filming at a number of different 

Lookin' to Get Out 


soundstages at Laird International Studios, where a hotel room — the Dr. 
Zhivago Suite, complete with suede walls, brass plumbing fixtures, and 
a working jacuzzi — and the Metro Club casino had been re-created at 
great cost by Boyle and art director Jim Schoppe. Only a few weeks after 
shooting at Laird had begun, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) announced 
a strike over payments for Pay-TV and video cassettes, and on July 21 
actors staged a walkout, halting all production. An appeal was made to 
the guild to sign an interim agreement allowing the actors in Lookin' to 
Get Out to continue work, but it became clear that any such pact would 
be slow in materializing. 

During the interim period, Ashby wrote a long letter to Merv Adel- 
son complaining about the financial difficulties he and Braunsberg were 
suffering owing to Lorimar's failure to sign the Northstar deal promptly. 
Furthermore, the company was charging them a 10 percent overhead 
(amounting to almost $2 million) for premises it was not using. Ponder- 
ing his strained relationship with Lorimar as a whole, Ashby concluded, 
"I don't think there's any way to turn it around, now, because the real 
problem has to do with the different levels of faith we all have in regards 
to me, and my films." 

He felt strongly that Lorimar's handling of Being There had resulted 
in the film underperforming and told Adelson he was fearful this would 
happen with Second Hand Hearts and Lookin' to Get Out. "It just 
doesn't add up right if you walk around feeling real anxious about deci- 
sions made regarding directions you're taking," Ashby wrote, "and I 
sense real strong how uneasy you've always felt about the films you've 
given me the money to make. You've told me, a few times, how you 
never would have gone for Being There if it hadn't been me bringing it 
to you, and the same goes for Second Hand Hearts (the lower cost/risk 
helped here, too). Then we come to Lookin to Get Out, and I know, 
from things said, you really don't feel good about it either. It worries you 
more than it should. 'It was too much money in the first place, and now 
Hal's over schedule.' 'Let's do some research on the title, we don't like 
the title.' 'We don't really understand the script, etc.;' all kinds of things 
to keep you feelin' good about the film.''^^ 

Robert Blake, who came by the editing rooms sometimes, was get- 
ting irritated that, two years after he had shot the film, it had not yet 
been released, and during an appearance on Johnny Carson's The To- 


Being Hal Ashby 

night Show he told Ashby to hurry up. Lorimar had actually submitted 
the film to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for a 
rating — a major step toward releasing it — but Ashby was disappointed 
to find that because of three instances of the word fuck (none of them in 
a sexual context), the film had received an R rating, massively limiting 
its potential audience. Convinced it deserved a PG rating, he applied 
for an appeal; however, when the MPAA contacted Lorimar about the 
standard payment of $100 for the appeal screening, the legal department 
said the studio would not be bothering with an appeal. 

Fortunately, Ashby found out about this, and his subsequent ap- 
peal was successful. However, he was exasperated that Lorimar could 
take such thoughtless, irresponsible actions, especially without consult- 
ing him. Though Ashby had always done his best to maintain a good 
relationship with Merv Adelson, his feelings toward Lorimar were now 
unreservedly negative. Lee Grant remembers meeting Ashby around this 
period at Warren Beatty's house and noting him anxiously talking to 
Beatty about his situation and the problems on Lookin' to Get Out. 
"He didn't have time for anything else; he was monomaniacal about it," 
says Grant. "He was desperate. He was single-minded, so concerned, so 
worried, and all he wanted to do was get some help from Warren. The 
feeling I got from him was 'Save me.'"^^ 

During the SAG strike, Ann-Margret's husband, producer Roger Smith, 
came to Ashby to propose that he direct her next film. Dreams (a.k.a. 
A Question of Direction), a vehicle based on her battle with alcoholism 
and its impact on her career and marriage. Ashby, though interested, was 
cautious about committing, not only because he was already overloaded 
with projects he was developing for himself or others, but also because 
of his working relationship with Ann-Margret. Like Shirley MacLaine, 
she wasn't used to the freedom Ashby extended to his actors and the 
expectation that they should experiment, push themselves, and ad-lib 
lines. (The situation probably wasn't helped by the fact that she started 
drinking again during production.) "Ann was sometimes very uncom- 
fortable because she didn't know what was being asked of her," Jon 
Voight recalled, "and sometimes I would use that as an actor. I would 
want her to be uncomfortable in a scene because I knew that would be 
the scene. "^^ 

Lookin' to Get Out 


On August 20, SAG signed an interim agreement allowing produc- 
tion to resume (while the strike went on until October 23), and Voight 
again threw himself into the role of Alex Kovac. At the start of filming, 
he had enthused about what the other actors should expect from work- 
ing with Ashby, telling Ann-Margret and Burt Young, "You're going to 
be on the set and you'll never have expected you're going to be able to 
really go. And he'll let you go as far as you want."^"* 

Young wasn't disappointed by the experience and described the safe 
feeling he got from Ashby as like working under an umbrella. Because 
the film had a loose, improvisational feel to it (despite being tightly 
scripted), Ashby pushed his actors to avoid obvious interpretations of a 
line or scene and viewed their so-called mistakes as simply another way 
that the action could go. "If I was way off in a scene," Voight says, "he 
would simply see what happened to the character in that kind of stress 
or confusion. And that stress or confusion would sometimes lead to very 
valuable and beautiful moments. "^^ 

This unconventional approach inevitably led to Ashby shooting 
even more film than usual. Voight said that Ashby's dealings with Bob 
Schaffel were better than previous interactions with his producers, and 
Schaffel supported Ashby, saying, "His first consideration is to get the 
best on film artistically which he always does, and he achieves this with 
a thorough knowledge and genuine concern for budgetary require- 
ments."^* However, Ashby did not, in fact, seem to have any concern 
for the budget, and without an experienced producer to reign him in, 
shooting on the soundstages at Laird dragged on for two months longer 
than scheduled, in addition to the month's hiatus caused by the SAG 
strike. At one point, a young Lorimar exec came to tell Ashby to cut the 
budget. He responded by tearing out a few pages of the script and snap- 
ping, "There, I've cut $100,000. That's the only way I can save money, 
and if you start cutting, then we're in trouble."^'' 

Ashby nurtured his actors, but as the pressure to finish the film 
mounted, he showed less patience with the crew. "There were a lot of 
bad vibes coming from that picture," says Haskell Wexler. "Hal went 
crazy. We had this casino set, and we spent ten, twelve days with multiple 
cameras, shooting inserts — dice, cards. Hal wanted the second camera 
guy to pan to one card, and the guy missed. Hal got furious, fired him 
right there. I just felt Hal had lost it. Something flipped. "^^ 


Being Hal Ashby 

"I saw him when he was erratic — he was not in the best shape on 
that film," says Voight. "He would be difficult. He would have temper 
fits and then march off and then be unreachable."^' There were rumors 
going around the set that Ashby was using cocaine again, but Voight 
himself never saw Ashby using any drug other than marijuana. "He was 
erratic and irrational," Haskell Wexler adds, "but that was because he 
wasn't happy with the film and took substances to alleviate his unhap- 

Ashby himself later said he thought "Lookin' was jinxed or some- 
thing," and though this may seem somewhat superstitious in light of his 

own culpability in the protracted production period, this assessment is 
not entirely unfounded. '' On top of a string of tussles with Lorimar, the 
Northstar deal (or lack of), his car crash, the ineptitude of his editorial 
staff, and the actors' strike, in late October there were a string of bizarre 
thefts from the soundstages where he was shooting in which a $5,000 
antique bronze buffalo and (bafflingly) some plants were stolen. (It 
should also be noted that the infamous fire that hit the MGM Grand in 
1980, killing 84 and injuring 679, happened on November 21, the very 
day that Lookin' to Get Out finally wrapped. What's more. Bob Boyle 
tells the story that when Ashby first arrived at the hotel, he pointedly 
remarked to Boyle, "This is funny. There are no exits." 

After cramming the final two weeks' worth of filming into just five 
days in New York, Ashby wrapped on Lookin' and once again turned 
his attention to Second Hand Hearts, which was now to be released 
by Paramount. Ashby had previously sent a letter to his lawyers laying 
out what influence he felt he should have in his films' releases, specifi- 
cally, approval of the marketing strategy and distributor and the right to 
exclude Lorimar from the distribution process. He wrote that he would 
rather abandon his films than "deal with the heartache and indignities" 
of continuing to work for Lorimar. "As much as I truly love 'Lookin' to 
Get Out,' 'Hamster,' and 'Being There,'" he continued, "no matter how 
much of my life, and blood, and heart is in each and all of them, I would 
rather walk away from them now, than go through all that pain.'"' 

However, it was not in Ashby to jump ship; his films were too 
important to him, and relinquishing all control was worse than hav- 
ing less control than he wanted. While a new, more competent chief 
editor worked on a rough cut of Lookin', Ashby tried to get Hearts 

Lookin' to Get Out 


back on track by bringing in his old friend Bill Sawyer, who had cut 
The Landlord and Harold and Maude, to oversee the ongoing recut. In 
late August, Hearts had premiered at the Montreal Film Festival, where 
there were walkouts and it received a decidedly lukewarm review from 
Variety. It had also been test screened yet again by two separate market 
research companies, both of which reported that the feedback was al- 
most universally negative, as evidenced by their transcripts of viewers' 
scathing remarks. Though Mike Kaplan told him he felt that he could 
successfully market the film only if changes were made, Ashby remained 
upbeat about Hearts, maintaining that he was "very, very pleased with 
the picture."'"* Nevertheless, he allowed Sawyer to hire a young editor to 
make changes based on audience responses, on the understanding that 
the original sequences would be reinstated if Ashby wasn't happy with 
the alterations. 

While editors worked on both his films, Ashby turned his focus to his 
probable next project, an adaptation of Truman Capote's novella Hand- 
carved Coffins, a supposedly factual small-town crime story akin to 
Capote's seminal In Cold Blood. Lester Persky, a producer on both The 
Last Detail and Shampoo, had fallen in love with the book when it was 
published in its entirety (a mere thirty thousand words) in Andy Warhol's 
Interview magazine in December 1979 and immediately snapped up the 
film rights for $350,000, then the most expensive dollar-per-word sale 
ever. After initially pursuing Roman Polanski to direct, Persky turned 
to Ashby, and a deal with United Artists was soon in the works for him 
to start shooting in March. However, Judith Rascoe's script failed to 
live up to expectations, and the project was put on hold while it was 

When Ashby sat down to look at both his films around January 
1981, he had a shock. As he had anticipated, Lookin' to Get Out needed 
a lot of work, but he was horrified when he saw Second Hand Hearts, 
which he had expected to be all but ready to release. The editor whom 
Sawyer had brought in to make alterations had unwittingly butchered 
the film and in some parts even erased the master dub tracks Ashby had 
spent days making. 

"It was a mess," Ashby recalled. "I basically have a very positive 
philosophy on life, because I don't feel I have anything to lose. Most 
things are going to turn out OK. But when I saw (the re-edited version) 


Being Hal Ashby 

of Second, for the first time in my life I thought someone was ruining 
my picture. At a time when he had hoped to be in preproduction on 
Handcarved Coffins and putting the finishing touches to Lookin' and 
Hearts — thus ending the painful Lorimar chapter of his life — he found 
himself sucked back into personally salvaging both films. Almost three 
years after work on Second Hand Hearts had begun, Ashby was the only 
person who knew exactly what had been undone, so he had no choice 
but to sit down and painstakingly re-create what had been lost. It took 
him five weeks working twenty hours a day to get it back to where it had 
been the previous May, and Ashby would look back with bitterness on 
this time that had been taken from him. 

By now, stories were circulating that drugs had taken over Ashby's 
life and that he was incapable of finishing a film. (Ashby later told a 
friend that someone high up at Lorimar had called every Hollywood stu- 
dio boss and told them not to hire him because he was a drug addict.)^* 
As Ashby already had a reputation as a dopehead and Second Hand 
Hearts had been stuck in postproduction for years, it didn't matter that 
there was no proof of these allegations; the stories began to take on a 
life of their own. Ashby was even more frustrated than Lorimar by the 
delays to Hearts, but while it was financial concerns and contractual 
obligations that the studio was fretting over, for him it was his creative 
reputation and his career that were at stake. "Nobody was more un- 
happy than I about the delays," he insisted. "I'm not crazy — I would 
have liked nothing better than to look at Second Hand Hearts and think 
it was great. But I didn't, so I ended up putting a load on myself. And 
instead of getting help in the form of support from Lorimar, I got BS 
encouragement that you don't even waste your time listening to because 
you know it's not sincere."^^ 

By late January 1981, however, Lorimar's encouragement had been 
exhausted, and the studio's lawyers insisted Ashby deliver the picture 
immediately so that Paramount could release it in the spring as planned. 
It was indicative of the lack of communication between the parties that 
Ashby had, in fact, already shown Hearts to Paramount and was work- 
ing on changes suggested by both Lorimar and Paramount boss Frank 
Mancuso. Lorimar had not confirmed how it wanted the credits to read, 
so while Ashby waited for word from them, he and Mike Haller wrote 
an introductory poem that would serve as a prologue, which he and 

Lookin' to Get Out 


Mancuso hoped would set the tone for the film. The prologue, how- 
ever, was arguably just an attempt to explain a confusing film, and even 
Ashby, the film's staunchest defender, was finally realizing that he would 
never be happy with it. 

"He would edit whole sequences of Second Hand Hearts, take them 
out the next day, and then put them back in," Charles Clapsaddle re- 
members. "He didn't really know what to do with it. It just didn't seem 
right for him. But he gave it the care and attention it needed; he took so 
much care over everything. It took him a long time to realize that he had 
to just let go."^^ 

By the time Ashby handed over the "finished" version of Second Hand 
Hearts to Paramount, he had "emotionally cut loose from the film."^' Ju- 
dith Crist, the esteemed critic who had vehemently attacked The Land- 
lord but loved Ashby's subsequent work, championed the film, getting 
it screened at the Dallas Film Festival, where it struck something of a 
chord with down-to-earth Texans, and also showing it at one of her film 
weekends in Tarrytown, New York. The Tarrytown reception, however, 
was disappointing, and it was becoming clear that metropolitan audi- 
ences could not relate to the film. 

When Second Hand Hearts opened in more rural Austin, Texas, to 
mixed reviews and disastrous box office, it began to look like the film 
simply had no viable audience. Lorimar, in any case, had already decided 
it was going to be a failure and was having Paramount release it in only 
a handful of major cities for one week each to qualify for network televi- 
sion money. In a word, it was buried: no trailers or posters were used for 
the openings in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Detroit, San Fran- 
cisco, or Boston, press materials were not sent to journalists, and Mike 
Kaplan's marketing plan was mostly ignored by Paramount. Kaplan 
had strongly advised that as a weaker, more "niche" film, Second Hand 
Hearts be kept back until after Lookin' to Get Out had been released, 
but Lorimar didn't want to change its release schedule. When Kaplan 
went to Frank Mancuso with the idea of showing an old Our Gang 
short starring an infant Robert Blake before each screening of Hearts 
and showing the film in a double bill with Harold and Maude (another 
Ashby "odd couple" romance) to help it at the box office, he was flatly 
turned down. The reason, according to Kaplan, was that Hearts was a 
"small" film and "Mancuso didn't give a shit about it.'"*" 


Being Hal Ashby 

Paramount did, however, allow Ashby to use the print marketing 
campaign that he had devised, which featured a crude line drawing of 
Blake and Harris and the confusing tagline "A Recession Romance." 
Ashby had strongly objected to Paramount's marketing strategy, which 
promoted the film on Ashby 's name and past success, as he felt that the 
use of his previous credits "tells the public that the film cannot stand on 
its own and that Paramount does not have confidence in it, as it must 
resort to a tired and uninspired device which has never worked.'"*^ That 
said, Ashby's own campaign was not strictly based on the film's true 
merits, as his ads quoted as many vaguely positive extracts from reviews 
as possible. In one instance, the New York Post's Archer Winsten seemed 
to be raving about the film, saying it was "played to the hilt by Barbara 
Harris. ... I don't think there has been anything like it." But the review 
actually ended as follows: "I don't think there has been anything like it 
and hope there never will again. '"^^ 

At the first Los Angeles press screening, the reaction from critics was 
awful. One said that because Ashby had made the universally adored 
Being There, after Hearts there was "still hope for him," and others 
asked incredulously whether Ashby had really directed it.'*^ A sentiment 
shared by many was that it might have been best not to release the film 
at all. When the reviews emerged, they were predominantly very poor, 
though most did their best to judge the film on its merits. Though Ashby 
had thought Barbara Harris's performance was the film's greatest weak- 
ness, Harris was actually the one person who was almost universally 
praised. Despite widespread disbelief that Ashby had directed a film this 
poor, the criticism was doled out gently, and the Motion Picture Product 
Digest reviewer summed up the thoughts of many when he said that 
Ashby was "entitled to a lapse now and then.'"''' Writer Charles Eastman 
(whose reputation was already shaky) took the biggest hammering. Di- 
nette and Loyal's homespun wisdom was widely attacked, and the New 
York Times' Vincent Canby said that Eastman treated his "characters as 
if they were waste baskets to be filled with prose that any self-respecting 
writer would hide from his best friend.""*^ (Eastman, for his part, hated 
Blake's and Harris's acting and, when asked whether there was any ele- 
ment of the film he liked, replied, "No.")''* 

There were good reviews, however, such as Crist's and those in the 
LA Weekly and LA Reader. A glowing appraisal of the film, headlined 

Lookin' to Get Out 


"A brilliant ode to Americana," by Bruce McCabe in the Boston Globe, 
made the Boston box office takings the biggest by far. Nonetheless, at the 
end of the year, the film was featured in Rolling Stone's top box office 
bombs of 1981: having cost $7 million, it had staggeringly grossed less 
than $10,000. (Nielsen figures now list it as having taken only $19,450, 
though a year after its release it had earned back almost $2 million from 
worldwide receipts and television and video money.) 

Second Hand Hearts is a puzzling film, above all because it seems 
almost inconceivable that Ashby made it. Though there are a remarkable 
number of aspects of Loyal that Ashby could relate to (his restlessness 
and inability to commit, a family inherited by marriage, the voyage to 
California's promised land, having been an encyclopedia salesman, and 
having fallen in love in Ogden), he is flippant, loud, and unthinking and 
thus a fundamentally atypical Ashby hero. Tonally, the film is completely 
antithetical to Ashby's other work, with a manic chaos that pervades 
almost every moment. Confusion is rife owing to the rapid-fire, oddly 
expressed dialogue (spoken in accents so strong that Ashby at one point 
even considered having subtitles) and bizarre, befuddling plot situations. 
Everything is overplayed, and the few moments of quiet or restraint are 
a blessing for viewers. 

After an incredible run in the 1970s, Ashby had to accept that his 
films would not always turn out how he imagined them. Or as Loyal 
Muke says, "You can't win 'em all, you've got to lose some of 'em. You've 
got to take the bitter with the better, that's my philosophy." 


Like a Rolling Stone 

I'm supposed to be a director, and a director is supposed to 
have a body of work. All I have is a body of frustration! 
—Hal Ashby 

The studios were basically frightened of him because he was 
their antithesis. As sweet as he was, he was a tough guy. You 
could not move him if he felt the enemy was in the room. 
And the enemy was anyone who was going to make him 
compromise what he felt was the truth of what he was doing. 
. . . When he was protecting the truth, he was a warrior. He 
was beautiful, sweet, lovely, but also ferocious — a ferocious 

— Dustin Hoffman 

As soon as Ashby had handed Second Hand Hearts over to Paramount, 
he began supervising the editing of Lookin' to Get Out. On hiring a 
new chief editor to oversee the cutting, he had noted that, unlike his pre- 
decessor, the replacement "did know how the basic mechanics worked, 
so things got done, and my life seemed more pleasant, for awhile, in 
that area." Now, however, he began to notice a new problem: "In a few 
short weeks I was able to see how bad my new editor was, not the mess 
of before, just not much reason behind any of the juxtapositions used in 
placing one piece of film after another."^ 

Finally, Ashby ran out of patience and took over the editing himself. 
He had all the footage transferred to videotape (at considerable cost) 
so he could use an innovative new editing technique and brought in the 
ever-reliable Bob Jones to share the workload with him. Having deter- 
mined that the current cut was inherently flawed, Ashby insisted that he 


Like a Rolling Stone 


and Jones start over from scratch. With 130 hours of footage to wade 
through, the two friends faced a huge challenge. From spring through 
summer, they worked almost twenty-four hours a day, Jones doing day 
shifts and Ashby doing nights, trying to get it ready for the October 
release that Lorimar and Paramount were planning. 

Ashby had recently gotten into the Police and decided to make their 
music an integral part of Lookin' to Get Out, selecting twenty-four 
tracks from their first three albums to put in the film. He cut scenes to 
the songs, using the beat to dictate the rhythm of the editing, but was 
still just thinking about the film a sequence at a time. He had not yet 
screened a rough cut for anybody and indeed seemed actively resistant 
to the idea of doing so, though he did show significant portions of what 
he had done to the increasingly vexed Lorimar suits. 

Ashby had never really seemed to need much sleep (which he 
apparently did for only an hour or so at a time, with his eyes half 
open), so he often edited at night. His editing staff, who'd all heard the 
rumors about his hedonistic tendencies that had been going around 
Hollywood, drew their own conclusions when he turned up at 4 a.m., 
sometimes barefoot and with a towel wrapped around him. "When he 
showed up, you never knew what Hal had had, whether he had eaten 
mushrooms, whether he was on acid or coke," says Janice Hampton, 
one of his editors on Lookin'. "We would hear his Mercedes, and we 
would say, 'Here comes Captain Wacky to the bridge.'"^ Ashby would 
then silently settle down with a joint, often encouraging the other 
editors to join him, and work with fiendish concentration for hours on 
end. Hampton recalls that a stoned Ashby would play sadistic mind 
games with her, trying to baffle her with his editing expertise, but 
still she maintains, "Everything I've learned of value I learned from 

While there was certainly a degree of truth in the rumors of Ashby's 
drug use, they were unreasonably inflated, in part because of people's 
preconceptions about Ashby as a hippie, and possibly also because of 
Lorimar's alleged attempt to blacken his name. Another editor who 
worked with him during this period, Eva Gardos, did not see him as 
being in any way an exceptional case. "He smoked a lot of marijuana 
freely, and sometimes came in with a bag of mushrooms and said 'These 


Being Hal Ashby 

are really good,' but I never saw him take coke," she recalls. "Drugs 
were rampant at the time — he was no different from anybody else.'"* 

While Ashby was working nights editing Lookin' to Get Out, he was 
spending his daylight hours developing future projects. Around the time 

Handcarved Coffins was put on ice, Ashby had been approached by 
his friend Mick Jagger about directing an adaptation of Kalki, a novel 
by Truman Capote's great literary rival, Gore Vidal. The book, which 
Jagger had bought the rights to when it was published in 1978, is a jet 
black comedy about an American GI who starts his own religion and 
then predicts the coming of the apocalypse. It seemed an ideal project 
for Ashby. "It was because of Being There and because I admired him as 
a director that I thought he was perfect for Kalki," says Prince Rupert 
Loewenstein, the Rolling Stones' business manager, who helped set up 
the film. "He was an educated, sensible, sensitive man. He was all those 
things with humor, which is rare. He had a sense of the ironic, a sense of 
the ridiculous, and a sense of proportion. All three are essential ingredi- 
ents in a great director. I can't think of any other director who had that 
specific talent and humor."' 

Jagger had not only bought the rights to Kalki but also convinced 
Vidal to write the screenplay and was putting up a significant chunk of 
his own money. However, Ashby and Jagger still needed to find a studio 
to provide the rest of the budget. In early 1981, it was reported that 
Kalki would start shooting in the latter part of the year, but this plan 
had to be revised as too many elements of the film were a turnoff to the 
major studios. The shoot would be long and expensive regardless — not 
least because bribes would be required to get permission to shoot in the 
proposed locations in India and Nepal — and this left less money with 
which to attract big-name stars. Jagger initially wanted a good comic 
actress — Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, or Jane Fonda — to play the role 
of the lesbian Teddy, but none was willing to take the risk, and in the 
end the only well-known actor who committed himself to Kalki was 
Alec Guinness. The film was generally something of a hot potato as 
it scathingly satirized religion, the CIA, and America as a whole, and 
although Paramount and Twentieth Century-Fox expressed interest, 
both ultimately passed. 

Around the same time, Ashby was contacted by Dustin Hoffman. 

Like a Rolling Stone 


There had been some discussion earher in the year that they would work 
together on an adaptation of Laughing War, Martyn Burke's novel about 
a comedian sent to entertain U.S. troops in Vietnam; however, Hoffman 
had now found another film he wanted Ashby to direct. Tootsie, which 
Hoffman had announced back in 1979, was a cross-dressing comedy in 
which a struggling actor (Hoffman) passes himself off as a woman in 
an attempt to get the female lead in a soap opera. When Dick Richards, 
the man originally slated to direct, chose to do Man, Woman and Child 
(1983) instead, Hoffman (who had a deal for the film at Columbia giving 
him creative control plus a huge $4.5 million fee) saw his chance to bring 
Ashby on board. Since Hoffman became involved with the project in 1979, 
it had gone through numerous changes symptomatic of the actor's insecu- 
rity about his transformation from serious actor to comedic transvestite. 

Ashby's Tootsie contract was far from ideal as his engagement was 
subject to a formal commitment from Hoffman, who also had final cut. 
It was understood that Ashby and Hoffman would work out creative as- 
pects between them, including final cut, but had it not been for Ashby's 
friendship with Hoffman and the implicit trust between them, he would 
have been unwilling even to consider such a contract. The prospect of 
collaborating with Hoffman, however, seemed to override any doubts 
Ashby may have had, and it quickly became clear that Tootsie was going 
to be a lot of fun. 

Hoffman seemed to love cross-dressing and would turn up at 
Ashby's editing complex in full drag. In mid-May, Ashby had Haskell 
Wexler shoot a screen test of Hoffman dressed as his female persona, 
Dorothy Michaels, at Ashby's house in Malibu Colony. Hoffman, made 
up beyond recognition and wearing the large glasses, was clearly having 
a ball as he vamped it up in various outfits, including a nurse's uniform. 
Hoffman sang to his eight-week-old son Jake as "Dorothy" and bounced 
him on his lap. Ashby then let him teeter around on his high heels and 
improvise scenes where he flirted with an elderly female neighbor (whose 
bottom he pinched) and responded to men hitting on him. Even Ashby 
got involved in the hilarity, lifting up Hoffman's dress; the actor re- 
sponded by perching on his director's lap. Hoffman was quite brilliant; 
all present were in hysterics, and Hoffman himself often burst out laugh- 
ing midsentence. 

The plan was to shoot Tootsie in the fall when Lookin' to Get Out 


Being Hal Ashby 

would be nearly completed and Ashby's obligation to Lorimar would be 
all but fulfilled. Lorimar's patience with Ashby had by that time long 
been exhausted; as Lookin' was the final film in the three-picture deal, 
there was no further attempt to be diplomatic. At the start of the year, 
Lorimar had ceased paying Northstar staff, and Ashby and Braunsberg's 
company was in the process of closure. By the summer, it was little more 
than a name and some nearly deserted offices (Lorimar representatives 
had entered the premises after hours and snatched the furniture), and the 
two founders were left to look back on an idea ultimately too ambitious 
to succeed. With the exception of The Postman Always Rings Twice, there 
had not been a single Northstar film that Ashby had not directed himself; 
all the other projects had stalled in development. 

Creator, Barfly, and Revenge did, in fact, all get made four or more 
years down the line (Ivan Passer's Creator was released in 1985, Barbet 
Schroeder's Barfly in 1987, and Tony Scott's Revenge in 1990), but it 
was projects like Orson Welles's The Dreamers and James Foley's Cow- 
boys of the American Night that were truly symbolic of Northstar's 
fortunes. Braunsberg had fostered a friendship with Orson Welles and 
was tremendously excited about being the architect of his return to Hol- 
lywood, but when he went to Warner Brothers with the idea, he was told 
Welles was a liability and unceremoniously shown the door. 

Cowboys of the American Night was at the other end of the spec- 
trum, a script by a first-time writer-director, but it proved equally dif- 
ficult to get funded. In a moment of financial desperation, Braunsberg 
had sold an eighteen-month option for Cowboys to Playboy Productions 
without Ashby's knowledge, to fund much needed rewrites on other 
Northstar projects and pay some of the staff. Braunsberg's actions drove 
a wedge between him and Ashby and, in many ways, signaled the end 
for Northstar. The reason Braunsberg hadn't told Ashby was because he 
was locked in the editing room cutting Lookin' and Braunsberg had long 
since grown used to working around Hal's unavailability. 

"Hal never appeared, of course," recalls Braunsberg, "because he 
always stayed in his house." Looking back, Braunsberg says Northstar 
was "a lovely idea" that worked on paper but not in practice. "We 
started that company with a lot of idealism," he continues, "but our feet 
were not firmly on the ground. Hal was too much of a poet, and I wasn't 
enough of a businessman. It seemed like two different companies pulling 
in two different directions. "'' 

Like a Rolling Stone 


As Northstar was falling apart, Braunsberg wrote to Ashby in an at- 
tempt to heal the rift, stressing their shared beliefs, and underlining that 
he too felt betrayed by Lorimar and the Northstar films' distributors. 
"The major companies seem to have more ego than the film makers," 
Braunsberg wrote. "Why is it that one sounds so naive when all we are 
asking for is a joint agreement. The answer of course is money, which is 
nearly always used as a weapon. The main thrust of my future work will 
be to find solutions to these problems."^ 

Sadly, Braunsberg's heartfelt letter did not soften Ashby's feelings, 
and further attempts at reconciliation were equally unsuccessful. Bob 
Downey recalls visiting Ashby once at the Colony when Braunsberg 
appeared outside and began knocking on the window. When Downey 
asked what was going on, Ashby said, "Ignore him. Bob." Eventually, 
when Braunsberg did not go away, Ashby went over to the window and 
said, "Andy, there are three people in the world I can talk to, and you're 
not one of them."* Braunsberg seemed heartbroken. 

Any inclination he had left to reestablish a working relationship was 
quickly eroded by Ashby's inflexibility. "Both of us were right, and both 
of us were wrong," says Braunsberg. "It was very sad because he was an 
exceptional person. We knew each other, even though we didn't know 
each other. It could have worked out. We had an amazing synergy. We 
had an incredible opportunity that we blew."' 

During the summer, the October release for Lookin' to Get Out was 
scrapped by mutual agreement after both Ashby and Lorimar acknowl- 
edged that the film was still a problematic "work in progress." Braunsberg 
says that Ashby was attempting to make the film work, that he was look- 
ing for "a miracle he couldn't figure out. It had a debilitating effect on 
Hal. He became like Howard Hughes, and he was chain-smoking grass, 
which I think induced paranoia. He looked like a fright, and became 
unavailable."^" Surrounded by the miles of film he had shot, Ashby cre- 
ated version after version of the same scenes, unsure of what worked best. 
He was philosophical about the possibility of Lookin' being a failure and 
once, during his struggles with Lorimar, said, "Hey, I can always go back 
and live on the beach. "^^ 

At the same time, Ashby was enthusiastically looking forward to 
making Tootsie. The start date, however, had been pushed back to No- 
vember at the request of a jittery Dustin Hoffman, who wasn't happy 


Being Hal Ashby 

with either of the drafts the film's latest screenwriter, Larry Gelbart, 
had produced. Yet Hoffman's dissatisfaction had more to do with his 
continuing personal fears. Jeff Wexler, who had been brought on board 
the film by Ashby along with his father, Haskell, Mike Haller, and a 
number of other Ashby regulars, says, "Dustin was very insecure, un- 
sure he could actually pull off the movie. "'^ 

Jack Ashby recalls that when he was staying with Hal in Malibu 
around this time, Hoffman's wife brought a tearful Dustin to Ashby's 
house. "Dustin was just crying and sobbing and saying 'I don't wanna go 
to New York to do the first scene,'" Jack recounts. "And Hal just says, 
'Well OK, Dusty,' and treated him just like a little kid. He says, 'That's 
just fine. If you don't wanna do that we'll work out some other way to 
do it.' Hoffman kept saying, 'I don't wanna do that, I don't wanna do it,' 
and Hal kept just talking to him and patting him. Pretty soon he calmed 
down, and his wife says, 'Thanks for talking to him. He was driving me 

Hoffman's jitters were, in turn, making Ashby uneasy as he was 
well into preproduction on Tootsie and Hoffman had yet to make a 
firm commitment to the film — meaning that Ashby was working with- 
out pay and essentially without a contract. Columbia couldn't even 
give him an estimated budget for the film but demanded his exclusive 
services, which he could not offer since he was still working on the 
editing of Lookin' and had no idea when production on Tootsie would 
actually begin. 

Events took a drastic turn for the worse when, on September 30, 
Lorimar announced it would sue Ashby and Columbia if he began 
work on Tootsie before he had delivered Lookin' to Get Out. Two days 
later, Columbia said it could not offer employment to Ashby while the 
threat of legal action was hanging over the studio, and, despite Ashby's 
lawyers' assertions that Lorimar had no lawful grounds to sue, three 
days later Ashby's job on Tootsie was terminated. Lorimar's lawyers had 
maintained that Ashby's services were not available until he had finished 
what Lorimar deemed an acceptable version of Lookin', despite the fact 
that, as Jack Schwartzman had explained to Ashby in 1979, the deal 
brokered with Lorimar stipulated that his "commitment to Lorimar was 
and is non-exclusive. You agreed to give them first look at your projects 
during the course of the agreement. Any project they did not want to 

Like a Rolling Stone 


develop could be set up elsewhere. You could accept pictures from other 

Ashby's lawyers made desperate attempts to get Columbia to reconsider, 
and for a few days it looked as if Ashby might be reinstated. Frank 

Price, Columbia Pictures' chairman and president, told the Hollywood 
Reporter, "Hoffman wants Ashby, and we do, too, but we can't interfere 
with contractual relationships. There's nothing definitive at this point. 
To our knowledge, Hal's occupied with another picture. The situation 
is a little loose. He could return to the project but preproduction time is 

Columbia wanted the exclusive services of Tootsie's director for the 
ninety days of preproduction, and Ashby's ties to Lookin' — whether le- 
gally binding or not — were too much of a risk for the studio to stick with 
him. Lorimar had prized Ashby from an exciting and lucrative project 
by playing a game of high-stakes legal bluff with Columbia and left him 
high and dry. 

"It was retribution for the problems on Lookin' to Get Out," says 
Kenneth Kleinberg, one of Ashby's lawyers who tried to get Ashby $1.5 
million compensation for the loss of earnings incurred by Lorimar's ac- 
tions.'* However, though Ashby's contract promised to pay him $1.5 
million for Tootsie, it was valid only once Columbia had received a "for- 
mal" commitment from Hoffman, which the actor had not yet given. As 
a result, Ashby never saw a single cent for his work on Tootsie, which 
ultimately was directed by Sydney Pollack and released in 1982. 

On October 9, in the midst of his despondency over what had happened 
with Tootsie, Ashby went to see the Rolling Stones at the Los Angeles 
Coliseum. They were on the lengthy American leg of their Tattoo You 
world tour, the first all-stadium tour in rock-and-roll history. It was dur- 
ing the show, as the band watched the sun setting, that Jagger had the 
idea of commissioning a film of the tour. Ashby had very particular ideas 
about how a music film should be made, so when Jagger asked him after 
the show which directors he could recommend, he said, "Why don't I 
do it?"i^ 

As it was far from certain that Kalki would ever get made, Jagger 
jumped at the opportunity to work with Ashby, who was relieved to 


Being Hal Ashby 

have a replacement for Tootsie fall into his lap. Within just a few days, 
Jagger had convinced the band members to put up $2.5 million of their 
own money (of which Ashby would receive a modest $150,000), and 
a shooting schedule was drawn up. To prepare for the movie, Ashby 
attended and taped a few more Stones shows (the fact that they played 
the same twenty-five songs in the same order every night helped) to for- 
mulate ideas on how to approach the venture and brought in old friend 
Pablo Ferro as his codirector. 

Jagger wanted a departure from the way that previous films, particu- 
larly the Maysles brothers' Gimme Shelter (1970), had shown the band: 
instead of interviews and verite behind-the-scenes footage, he favored a 
straightforward document of the tour. The Stones had a huge, colorful 
stage setup that Ashby was excited about capturing on celluloid, and 
he wanted to make a concert film that would focus on the energy and 
excitement of the Stones' music. "My initial, basic idea," Ashby said, 
"was to make a real good hour-and-a-half-long rock and roll album, and 
capture some real good images to go with it."'** 

Though Lorimar had forbidden Ashby to do Tootsie, insisting that 
nothing should keep him from finishing Lookin' to Get Out, Merv 
Adelson inexplicably allowed him to direct the Stones film. Admittedly, 
Ashby would be shooting for only a handful of days, but there were 
also lengthy pre- and postproduction periods to be factored in. After the 
ruthlessness of Lorimar's actions over Tootsie, Adelson's decision seems 
bizarre, though it may have simply been a demonstration to Ashby that 
the company was in charge. Ashby summed it up by saying, "Lorimar 
had blown my Tootsie deal, but Merv said okay to the Stones Film — it 
was getting nuttier all the time.'"' 

Shortly after getting the green light for the Stones movie, Ashby 
completed a cut of Lookin' to Get Out (seemingly close to three hours in 
length) that he was happy with. Unfortunately, however, he had discov- 
ered that using songs by the Police, a British band, was in conflict with 
Northstar and Lorimar's agreement with the American Federation of 
Musicians to use only music recorded in the United States in their films. 
Only a significant payment would have allowed Ashby to have the sound 
track of his choice, so the Police songs had to be scrapped. Lookin' had 
already cost close to a staggering $18 million, and as Ashby said, by the 
time he showed his version of the film to Lorimar, "everyone was pissed 
and down on the film."^*^ 

Like a Rolling Stone 


A few years earlier, Ashby's editors had cut Being There with Erik 
Satie's music as a temporary track, and then John Mandel wrote a sym- 
phonic sound track that uncannily recalled Satie's style — so much so 
that the French arm of the film composer's association (unsuccessfully) 
sued him. Ashby now decided to have Mandel write a sound track in the 
style of the Police, expecting that it would be done in time for the film's 
new release date of February 1982. 

Less than a month after the idea for the Stones movie had been 
conceived, production began on the as-yet-untitled concert film. The 
first two Stones shows Ashby shot were on November 5 and 6 at the 
Brendan Byrne Arena, Meadowlands, New Jersey. Ashby had brought 
in Ron Schwary, producer of the most recent winner of the Best Picture 
Oscar, Ordinary People (1980), and reunited with Caleb Deschanel, one 
of two directors of photography on the film, along with Gerald Fell. 
Ashby and Ferro sat in front of a bank of video monitors, giving instruc- 
tions to the fourteen camera operators covering every possible angle of 
the spectacle. "Hal was directing half the cameras and I had the others," 
says Ferro. "We'd be yelling into the operators' headsets, 'Camera One, 
stay with Mick, stay with Mick,' and 'Camera Three, looks good on 
Keith Richards, don't lose him,' and all the while everything they were 
shooting was being recorded on videotape. It was exhausting, and it got 
pretty crazy."-' 

The great efforts the Stones had made to dazzle the masses visually 
as well as musically translated well to Ashby and Ferro's wide-screen cine- 
matic vision. At every show, twenty-five thousand balloons were released 
in the crowd, and the carnival atmosphere was capped by a huge fireworks 
display set to Jimi Hendrix's explosive rendition of The Star Spangled 

Jagger had an active role in the film, readily contributing ideas for both 
the film and the pay-per-view show in Hampton Roads, Virginia, at the 
end of the tour, which Ashby was also to direct. The other band mem- 
bers, however, were not so keen on the idea of yet another film, which 
to them was one more obligation on an already busy tour. "There was 
definitely a greater bond between Mick and Hal than there was with 
the rest of the band," says Prince Rupert Loewenstein. "Mick was a 
man who was the incarnation of the band for Hal and also much more 
interested in the filming side than all the rest."^^ 


Being Hal Ashby 

Jagger was a natural entertainer, and even his backstage activities 
had a charm and flamboyance, something that was not true of some of 
his bandmates. Richards was particularly uncooperative. While Ferro 
and Caleb Deschanel were shooting backstage, he grumpily told them 
to stop filming him in the greenroom. Even worse, Richards turned up 
drunk for one of the Meadowlands gigs, and although the visuals that 
night were fine, it sounded so bad that filming had to be abandoned. 

The Stones were infamous for their drinking and drug taking, and 
it was inevitable that Ashby — some fifteen years their senior — would join 
in their hedonism. There is a degree of uncertainty surrounding the events 
that took place before the show at the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, 
Arizona, the final filmed concert; however, on the night of the show 
Ashby had to direct while lying on a gurney with an IV in his arm. 
The consensus opinion was that Ashby had overdosed, and Jeff Wexler 
says fifty-two-year-old Ashby was "partying way beyond his capabilities 
with the Stones."^' However, Pablo Ferro and Caleb Deschanel, the two 
people on the film who were closest to Ashby both professionally and per- 
sonally, both say Ashby was genuinely ill, suffering from a severe bout 
of the flu. 

"I heard that he couldn't attend for medical reasons," remembers 
Prince Rupert Loewenstein, "so I rang him and said, 'You've got to turn 
up.' I believe what I was told was a minor heart attack, but, from ninth- 
hand gossip, I assumed it was something else. I would not call into ques- 
tion his dedication to the project; I just think that it was the unfortunate 
effect of dope or drink. I think he was a highly dedicated artist. To 
his credit, Ashby soldiered on, despite not being completely functional. 
Ironically, the Sun Devil show turned out to be the best of the three, 
and footage from that concert makes up more than half the completed 
film. Twenty cameras were employed, one of them in a helicopter that 
captured a stunning aerial shot as it rose above the mountains to reveal 
the stadium below and then swooped down over the stage as the Stones 
opened their set with the pounding "Under My Thumb." 

"There was this really beautiful backdrop of desert and mountains, 
and we had 70,000 people," said Mick Jagger, recalling the concert dur- 
ing the film's editing. "We filmed it so that you see me singing in front 
of lots of bright colors, like a painting really, but a helicopter pulls the 
camera back and you see I'm actually performing in front of a gigantic 

Like a Rolling Stone 


guitar. I just saw a rough cut of the scene, and to tell you the truth I 
hadn't thought it would look as spectacular as it does."^' 

The Tempe show was full of memorable Jagger moments. During 
"Let Me Go," he climbed down into the audience and sang as he walked 
through crowds of fans. He danced with scores of chorus girls (including 
his girlfriend, Jerry Hall) for "Honky Tonk Women." And he rose into 
the air in a hydraulic cherry picker as he belted out "Jumpin' Jack Flash." 

Garrett Brown, the cinematographic magician behind the ground- 
breaking Steadicam shot in Bound for Glory, filmed the band behind 
the scenes that night and followed them as they walked onto the stage, 
capturing an ideal opening sequence for the film. (Keith Richards got so 
annoyed with Brown walking after him he nearly started a fight with 
him.) Over the three nights in New Jersey and Arizona, Ashby and Ferro 
amassed more than sixty hours of footage, but at the end of it all, Ashby 
was probably just glad to be alive. "It's one of the most difficult things 
I've ever done," he said. "And the most fun."^** 

After the stress of the Sun Devil concert, the pay-per-view HBO 
show at Hampton Roads five days later was a less demanding affair, 
but only just. It was a massive operation, a two-and-a-half-hour pro- 
gram broadcasting to sixteen U.S. cities, composed of thirty minutes 
of backstage buildup, a brief support spot from George Thorogood and 
the Destroyers, and then the Stones' Tattoo You tour extravaganza in 
full. Ashby had no previous experience of the pressures of live television, 
especially on such a huge scale, but used what he'd learned in the past 
weeks to get him through — and justify the $100,000 fee he was earn- 
ing for a single night's work. The broadcast's inspired opening sequence 
gave the names and frequencies of all the radio stations simulcasting the 
show (so, as Jagger was originally scripted to tell viewers, they could 
hear the sound "through proper speakers and avoid that awful little 
box on your TV"), which were painted onto a naked girl, the camera 
informatively moving up and down her body.^^ The backstage material 
ranged from run-of-the-mill footage (Keith Richards jamming, Jagger 
warming up for the show. Bill Wyman playing table tennis) to surreal 
staged moments such as when the cameraman wandered into the bath- 
room and found sheep, chickens, and ducks, naked women and men in 
the shower, and a woman standing at the urinal while snakes slithered 
on the bathroom pipes. 


Being Hal Ashby 

As it was the first ever pay-per-view concert, everyone involved was 
nervous. But when Jagger told the hordes at home he hoped they were 
having a good time drinking beer and smoking joints, suddenly it was 
just another night on tour with the Stones. 


Getting Out 

The world is ripped up. Real good people stand around and 
try to figure out why they're ripped up. 
—Hal Ashby 

In January 1982, Merv Adelson sent Ashby a letter with a document 
detailing the money spent on Lookin' to Get Out. "Just so that you 
are aware of the ridiculous costs of this film as it now stands," Adelson 
wrote. "This kind of thing is part of what is wrong with our business 
today. These costs do not include interest or overhead. When is it going 
to stop[.']"' The film had been budgeted at $12 million but was more 
than $5 million over budget and estimated to cost a further $1 million 
before completion. To ensure that it was finished as quickly as possible, 
Lorimar had Ashby sign an agreement stating that if he did not deliver 
Lookin' within one week of receiving the sound track from John Man- 
del, "Lorimar shall forthwith thereafter have complete control of the 
Picture, and materials and elements, and to be required to affectuate its 
control."^ This would have been a fail-safe move, if not for the fact that 
the music didn't materialize for months. 

During that time, Ashby wrote to his lawyer, Kenneth Kleinberg, 
in a cathartic attempt to explain why he was "so bloody angry" about 
the ongoing Lorimar situation. Reflecting on the deal he had made four 
years earlier, he asserted that the partnership he signed on for had never 
been honored: "I sincerely can't see myself accepting a deal where I was 
told I was considered an employee. Partners, what a joke. Along with all 
the other broken promises, I was anything but a partner. From the time 
I was away in Texas shooting the first film 'Hearts,' and Lorimar made 
the deal with U.A. to distribute, to the negotiation with Paramount, 
when they were scrambling for money, and refused to tell, even to this 
day, what kind of deal they were trying to make, or did make, on some 



Being Hal Ashby 

film on which I was a so-called partner. I wonder what they thought I'd 
feel when I was told the ultimate fate of my film is none of my business. 
A great way to run a partnership, huh? ... I do understand it is, and was, 
my responsibility to take a walk, once I discovered, or was aware of the 
deception, dishonesty, or whatever you want to call it, but it seems I let 
continued hope, and promises guide me instead of my own good com- 
mon sense. For this, I have truly learned one of the bigger lessons." 

In addressing Lorimar's snide comments about how long it was go- 
ing to take to edit Lookin' to Get Out, he said that because of "an edito- 
rial crew on both 'Hearts' and 'Lookin"" that had "continually" let him 
down he didn't start editing the film until the previous April: "And at 
that time it was like starting on a virgin film, as I was so unhappy with 
the so-called edit of the film." 

Nevertheless, he did acknowledge that recently, with just a few small 
tasks remaining, he had found himself unable to work on Lookin': "It 
has to do with my Creative, ha ha, person. You see, it seems I'm only 
so good at working night and day, for almost 4 years, while trying to 
create, ha ha, 3 films for Lorimar, and all the while receiving no more 
support than a few broken promises, served up with a good dose of out 
and out lying. Most certainly, Lorimar has never even come close to say- 
ing thanks for a job well done. Well, as a result of this kind of treatment, 
my creative, ha ha, self sometimes starts to feel real sick inside, and even 
goes so far as to get very depressed at times. Of course, a lot of this has 
to do with the silly notion that this life, as we know it, is not a dress 
rehearsal. It is, in fact, the real thing. But what the hell, why should 4 
unappreciated years, matter[?]"^ 

Anticipating that Mandel's music would be in his hands soon, he 
said he expected Lookin' should be ready (even if it were not entirely 
finished) for Lorimar's planned screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 
early May. However, Mandel's music did not turn up in time, adding to 
the notoriety of the film, which hyperbolic newspaper articles had stated 
"reportedly cost about $27 million. 

By this time, editing on the Stones movie was already at an advanced 
stage. Ashby and his crew were stationed at the postproduction complex 
he had set up in an old courthouse in Malibu. It was a somewhat sur- 
real place to work ( Ashby 's business manager, Larry Reynolds, had an 
office in the building with bars on the door), but progress was relatively 

Getting Out 


quick by recent standards. Ashby's four young editors, Lisa Day, Michael 
Tronick, Lori Hollingshead, and Sonya Sones, were working on the film 
song by song, and as they completed each number, he would look at 
what they had done and give them notes. Ashby had not initially assigned 
anyone the role of chief editor, but after turning up at 4 a.m. one morning 
to find Day familiarizing herself with the video editing system he was 
using on Lookin', he casually offered her the job. She had feared she was 
going to be sacked but instead found herself promoted. 

Ashby took it upon himself to be a friend and mentor to Day. "What 
I learned most from him was looking at film," she recalls. "He just loved 
it: the smell of it, the touch of it, the look of it. He was like a kid. I can't 
think of a better person to work for." Day says that very occasionally 
Ashby would turn up under the influence but that this was the exception 
rather than the rule. "He wasn't there to party," she says.^ 

There was pressure from Prince Rupert Loewenstein to finish the 
film as soon as possible so as to cash in on residual excitement about 
the tour, and the strain sometimes showed. Sonya Sones remembers that 
very early on in postproduction, an exasperated Ashby yelled at her. 
"It was probably the first time he sat down to work with me," she says, 
"and I was flustered because it was the great Hal Ashby. He was trying 
to communicate what he wanted done, and I wasn't understanding. I 
just remember being flustered and then being stunned because he was 
screaming at me. After that I was happy to edit [alone] and have some- 
body else work with him."* 

There had been initial interest in the Stones film from Don Simpson, 
Barry Diller, and Michael Eisner at Paramount, who identified it as a 
potential gold mine if properly marketed and distributed. Ashby had 
given it Mike Kaplan's suggested title. Time Is on Our Side (from the 
Stones' song "Time Is on My Side"), and Jagger was touting it as a hit 
movie just waiting to happen: "If The Last Waltz grossed $5 million, 
and it wasn't a very good movie, we could gross at least that."^ Kaplan 
himself compared it to the seminal Woodstock (1970) and predicted that 
Time Is on Our Side should make $20 million in rentals, adding that 
that was a "perhaps conservative figure."^ 

After finishing the European leg of the Stones' tour, Jagger joined 
Ashby in Los Angeles to help finesse the film's sound track. Sound re- 
recording mixer and longtime Ashby collaborator Robert "Buzz" Knud- 


Being Hal Ashby 

son remembers that Ashby and Jagger "would come in so fresh in the 
morning and by 11 or 12 o'clock they'd go out a couple of times together 
and come back, and after that they were just . . . rocking and rolling! 
They were great guys, though. They were really nice. Hal was one of my 
favorite people, as a matter of fact."' 

A rough cut of Time Is on Our Side was screened to international 
distributors at Cannes and snapped up by the German distributor To- 
bis, which was to release the film in all the German-speaking countries 
in Europe as soon as possible. The finished seventy-millimeter print, 
however, was still a few months off, in part because its director was 
exhausted. Writing to Jagger to apologize for his noncommunication, 
Ashby explained, "It seems every time I come up for air and see where 
I'm at, it isn't the right time to call, or I'm just too bloody tired to make 
sense or or or. . . 

Ashby was in the process of finishing off the final version of Lookin' 
to Get Out and gave a copy of the print to Merv Adelson in early June. 
Though Ashby still had to do a final check and add end titles, Adelson 
did not return it as agreed. When Paramount execs saw the film, they 
declared it unreleasable and demanded it be reedited and shortened. 
Though Ashby's contract unambiguously gave him final cut, Lorimar 
stated that it had control of the film. Ashby responded by writing to 
Richard Zimbert, the senior vice president of Paramount, saying that 
he would sue if he didn't approve of the version Paramount proposed to 
release. However, Ashby ultimately had neither the stomach nor the will 
to follow through with the threat. 

"There was too much studio politics," says Mike Kaplan, "and he gave 
up."" Just as he had done with Second Hand Hearts, Ashby emotionally 
switched off and let Paramount go ahead with its plans. Jon Voight, who 
loved the film as it was, worked with Bob Jones to cut fifteen to twenty 
minutes out of Ashby's version and create something more commercial. The 
fact that Jones, Ashby's favorite editor, had turned against him by helping 
Lorimar, "the enemy," butcher his film drove a wedge between them. Once 
the changes had been made, Jones contacted Ashby, hoping he might watch 
the new version and maybe even give his blessing. "I called him," remembers 
Jones, "said, 'Hal, we're screening this, I want you to see it,' and I couldn't 
get any response. 'Hal it's being released,' no response."^^ 

Ashby had, in fact, given Voight permission to supervise the editing. 

Getting Out 


but had he seen the final cut, he never would have approved. (Looking 
back on the changes he made to the film, even Voight admits, "I didn't 
do anything right. ")^' Ashby could not follow through on his initial 
decision to completely abandon Lookin' and ruefully admitted a few 
months later that the editing was his responsibility: "I can't negate that 
by saying, 'Hey, if they [audiences] don't like it, it's your [Voight and 
Jones's] fault, not mine.' That's bull. I'm the one who said, 'OK, do what 
you want' instead of 'No, I'm sorry. The version I have here is my cut, 
it's my film and I don't care what any of you think.' From now on, that's 
what I'm going to say."''' 

Paramount had accepted what seemed an undeserved R rating and 
planned only a limited release, and it appeared that the studio had de- 
cided to treat Lookin' to Get Out in much the same way as Second 
Hand Hearts, letting it slip by with the least possible embarrassment 
and money spent. Ashby disapproved of both the trailer and Paramount's 
choice of poster, which he told Paramount staff was "misrepresentative" 
and "will further alienate the audience."'^ 

When Lookin' to Get Out was released on October 8, the critical 
reception almost killed it stone dead. Reviews expressed a continuing re- 
spect for Ashby and Voight but were unrestrained in their harsh opinions 
about the film itself. "False" and "ill-conceived" was how Variety saw the 
film, adding, "Voight and Young are an entertaining team but presented 
in an untenable vehicle."'*" Across the board, there was criticism of the 
improvisational feel of the film, and reviewers almost universally disliked 
the two main characters. The Hollywood Reporter called Voight's Alex 
Kovac "unsympathetic" and said that both Young's and Voight's screen 
personas were "too alien for empathy, and unconvincing."'^ In the Los 
Angeles Times, Sheila Benson opened her review by saying, "It is hard to 
understand the vision that attracted a director of Hal Ashby's sensibilities 
and overall track record ... to the strident charmlessness of Lookin' to 
Get Out." 

There were also a handful of good reviews, notably from Gene 
Siskel and Judith Crist, plus others in the New York Post, Newsweek, 
US Magazine, and the LA Weekly, but it was possibly Benson's senior 
colleague at the Los Angeles Times, Charles Champlin, who best encap- 
sulated the problematic film and its reception when he discussed it in his 
"Critic at Large" column. 


Being Hal Ashby 

"The film has been greeted in many reviews as a felony rather than a 
misdemeanor," Champlin wrote, "because (the backhanded compliment 
that can leave bruises) the critics on past evidence hoped for more from 
the assembled talents. What took place — in the making and, therefore, 
the perceiving of the film — is that a fairly serious film about the com- 
pulsive gambler acquired so many farcical and slapstick moments that 
it looked like a funny caper picture that wasn't funny enough, rather 
than a hard-edged and cynical film whose cutting edge was dulled. ... I 
found Lookin' to Get Out more interesting than I expected it to be ("in- 
teresting" being one of those critical words that sound evasive even when 
they're not). Voight . . . struck me as taking a big risk for a star actor of 
creating a character who was essentially unlikable if possibly pitiable."^** 

The main reason that Lookin' to Get Out failed to appeal was argu- 
ably because it was out of line with the popular cinema of the 1980s. 
In the 1970s, the emergence of New Hollywood directors pushed the 
marginalized and underrepresented to the forefront of American cinema, 
and antiheroes, subversives, and losers were the protagonists of many 
highly successful films. But this had changed as increasingly aspirational 
Americans replaced former peanut farmer Jimmy Carter with failed Hol- 
lywood leading man Ronald Reagan. (Ashby was staunchly anti-Reagan 
and said that he "thought it was a joke" when he "heard Ronald Reagan 
was running for governor" of California. "I'm so naive that I didn't think 
people were really going to get down to it.'"' According to producer Rob- 
ert Shaffel, when Reagan wanted to visit the set while Lookin' to Get 
Out was shooting, Ashby threatened to shut down production for the 
day if Lorimar staff let him set foot on the lot.)^" Alex Kovac is a loser 
with a smile who offers no excuse for himself, and there was no place for 
such an unrestrained and unsympathetic "hero" in Hollywood cinema of 
the 1980s. "Audiences want to identify with somebody in the picture," 
Lookin' to Get Out's production designer, Bob Boyle, reflected, "and it 
was kind of hard to identify with these two losers. "^^ 

The film was awkward, unsettling, and staunchly individual, the 
opposite of what the successful films of the era were like as mainstream 
Hollywood movies became slicker and less complex. The reaction to 
Lookin' and Ashby was indicative of a general trend as the New Hol- 
lywood directors who had thrived making personal, challenging, and 
distinctive films under the permissive regimes of the studio heads of the 

Getting Out 


1970s almost all found themselves yesterday's men, outdated and mar- 
ginalized. Coppola, Mazursky, Friedkin, Bogdanovich, Rafelson, and 
particularly Altman hit a slump during the "me" decade of the 1980s 
from which most would never recover. 

However, not only was the film out of sync with the times, but the 
released version of Lookin' to Get Out suffered from its reediting after 
Ashby was forced to give it up. (Its failure should be set apart from that 
of Second Hand Hearts, a film gone so wrong that it never realistically 
had a chance of success.) The greatest flaw with the version of Lookin' 
the world saw was that it was an attempt to make an unconventional 
film seem more conventional. Nevertheless, there are still signs of qual- 
ity marking it as a Hal Ashby film, particularly the performances of the 
leads: Voight plays totally against type and brings Alex Kovac vibrantly 
to life; Burt Young is wonderfully understated as Jerry, adding just 
enough compassion to the character to make him strangely charming; 
and Ann-Margret, though perhaps underused, is unusually good under 
Ashby's direction. 

Considering its R rating and limited release, Lookin' had a respect- 
able opening weekend, taking just over $500,000. However, owing to 
Paramount's lack of patience, it lasted barely more than a week or two in 
cinemas and grossed a little under $1 million, a staggering loss consider- 
ing its $18 million price tag. 

It was to be the last Lorimar film released for some years. Lorimar 
Films, a venture Merv Adelson had championed against the wishes of his 
partner, Lee Rich, had floundered horribly because of the inexperience, 
naivete, and mistrust that extended throughout the company. Ashby's 
inability to thrive under Adelson and Rich was the rule rather than the 
exception, as other highly talented and individual directors like James 
Toback and Sam Fuller had equally miserable experiences. "There were 
a lot of petty, stupid things that in a better atmosphere would have been 
solved," says Kenneth Kleinberg. "I think they were unwilling to accept 
that they had made mistakes and that they hadn't handled a lot of things 
correctly; they wanted to pretend they were as important a studio as any 
major studio."^^ 

Having ignored Bob Jones's invitation to watch his and Voight's amended 
version of Lookin' to Get Out, Ashby also declined to see the film on 


Being Hal Ashby 

its release, though much of his bitterness seemed to have dissipated. "I 
directed it, it's a Hal Ashby film," he conceded. "I made the decision 
to allow what (Jon Voight) did to the cut. I choose not to see it, not 
because I disagree with the cut, but because I don't want to second-guess 
him."^^ However, in November 1982, UCLA organized a retrospective 
of Ashby's work from Harold and Maude onward, and presented him 
with a unique opportunity to show his own version of Lookin' to Get 
Out. According to Bob Schaffel and Voight, there are scenes and se- 
quences in this version that they had never seen before, meaning that 
Ashby must have continued editing the film after he gave it to Lorimar, 
despite the fact that this unofficial version would never be seen by more 
than a handful of people. 

Comparing the two versions of Lookin' to Get Out, one is struck by 
the scenes that are only in Ashby's version. The opening sequence — in 
which Alex collects his white Rolls Royce and has an unrestrained con- 
versation with the Asian parking attendant, painting a hilarious, 
wildly imaginative, but extremely politically incorrect picture of what 
America would be like if the Chinese took control of it — shows that he 
is a chancer and an unashamed bullshitter, while the released version's 
opening scene sets him up as a more conventional leading man. Indeed, 
the scenes that are in Ashby's cut alone are arguably some of the most 
inspired, the perfect example being the chase sequence where Alex and 
Jerry are pursued through the MGM Grand by Harry and Joey, the 
heavies to whom they owe money. An abbreviated version exists in the 
released film, but in Ashby's it becomes a highly unusual chase owing to 
the off-kilter interludes: we see Alex and Jerry in the showgirls' dressing 
room donning oversized wigs, and then, as described previously, they 
get stuck in the room with numerous doors and begin bickering about 
Jerry's ex-wife. Another significant omission is the scene near the end 
where, after seeing his daughter for the first and last time, Alex is shown 
in a long shot sitting sad and alone, listening to Jerry having sex with 
the hotel hooker in the next room. It is a daring, emotionally powerful 
moment that perfectly expresses the poignancy of the situation, which 
Ashby typically captures with silence. 

Overall, the pacing and feel of Ashby's cut are strikingly different 
from the released version. While Jones and Voight tried to generate a 
quicker pace to make it like a straightforward comedy, instead creating 
an awkward, stuttering progression, Ashby's cut is consistent through- 

Getting Out 


out. From the first scene, nothing is rushed, and the film meanders and 
ambles with a sureness and ease toward its conclusion. 

On the night Ashby showed his version of Lookin' at UCLA, he also 
premiered the Stones film, now titled Let's Spend the Night Together. 
It had been released a few months earlier in East and West Germany, 
Switzerland, and Austria under the title Rocks Off! and had been a con- 
siderable success. Ashby, however, had decided to reedit the film for its 
domestic release, which he was able to do because, despite considerable 
interest, the film had failed so far to find a U.S. distributor. 

Ashby and Mike Kaplan had formulated an ambitious plan for a 
"road show" release, inspired by an editing session on the big screen 
at the Todd-AO studio. "Everybody just started dancing," says Ka- 
plan, recalling how the idea came about. Ashby wanted to re-create 
the scenario for audiences by showing the film on a big screen with an 
even bigger sound system and space for people to dance. This could be 
achieved by showing the film not in cinemas but in clubs. The film would 
travel to the big cities, taking an advanced audio setup with it, just like 
a rock-and-roll band. 

"I want to do a road show kind of thing," Ashby explained, "be- 
cause the film has got a lot of energy in it. Every time I screen it people 
come up to me afterwards and say, 'My God!,' so I want to take a 70mm, 
six-channel stereo print and put it up where people can have some fun. I 
want to screen it where people can get up and dance."^^ 

There were precedents for Ashby's idea, as the Venice Film Festi- 
val had screened a seventy-millimeter print of the movie in St. Mark's 
Square, and 300,000 Stones fans had crammed into a stadium in Sao 
Paolo for a special screening to mark its Brazilian release. Before film- 
ing had started, Jagger met with Douglas Trumbull, the special effects 
wizard and director of Silent Running (1971), who had suggested that 
the film be shown on his own invention, Showscan, a system similar to 
IMAX. That plan had been shelved because there were no Showscan 
cinemas, and the road-show idea foundered too, owing to a combination 
of impracticality and expense. Though the film was making good money 
internationally, the Stones' management had already invested consider- 
able funds in pursuing a U.S. distributor and saw the road-show scheme 
as too much of a financial risk. 

Much later than Loewenstein had hoped. Let's Spend the Night 


Being Hal Ashby 

Together found an American distributor, Embassy Pictures, which re- 
leased it on February 11, 1983. Though a seventy-millimeter print with 
six-track sound was put out and played at drive-ins as well as normal 
cinemas, Ashby's dream of audiences dancing to the film in clubs was 
never realized. The critical reception was very positive, though reviews 
tended to qualify their praise by acknowledging the film's rather limited 
ambitions. Variety dubbed it "a solid, technically sophisticated concert 
pic," and the Hollywood Reporter noted, "[What] Ashby did is mount 
a straightforward attempt to capture them [the Stones] in performance. 
He succeeds admirably."^* Though Janet Maslin similarly noted the 
film's modest brief as "just a concert," she nevertheless described it as 
"probably the handsomest rock-and-roll movie ever made" and "the 
classiest of concert movies. . . . The scale is enormous, almost as though 
this were a western."^^ 

The credits list Ashby as the sole director, only because Pablo Ferro 
forgot that his Directors Guild of America membership had lapsed ten 
years earlier. "Pablo is actually the co-director of the film," Ashby stressed. 
"Only guild requirements prevented him from having that title. He's been 
an integral part of this project from the beginning and has been involved 
in all of the film's creative work."^* To make up for Ferro being credited 
only as "Creative Associate" on the film, Ashby surprised him by giving 
him the original storyboards for The Russians Are Coming, the Rus- 
sians Are Coming and the "multiples" contact sheets from The Thomas 
Crown Affair, reminding him of their earliest collaborations and how 
their friendship had endured over the years. 

One of Ferro's many contributions was the montage of black-and- 
white newsreel footage — soldiers brutally beating prisoners, a decapitat- 
ed head on a spike, a man on fire, the pope being carried aloft through 
the streets, and a naked dying man lying in the dirt — that runs as the 
Stones play "Time Is on My Side," a variation on Jagger's idea of using 
stock footage and cutting erotica in with concert footage. 

During the same song, pictures of the Stones as they progressed from 
infancy to adulthood and clips of them playing throughout their career 
were also interspersed, but what was surprising was the scarcity of mo- 
ments like this in the film, when it was truly cinematic and not "just a 
concert." There was the helicopter shot, small amounts of backstage 
footage, a time-lapse sequence showing the band's elaborate stage set 

Getting Out 


being assembled from scratch, and smaller montages showing Jagger's 
bows, whirls, jumps, kisses, etc., or Richards's dynamic guitar playing, 
but for a ninety-minute film featuring twenty-four songs, it was precious 
little. The film was essentially a more elaborate, up close version of what 
audiences experienced at the concerts, showcasing the band rather than 
Ashby's directorial skills. 

Jagger, however, seemed very happy. He called the film "a much big- 
ger, more accurate, interesting view of the concert than we'd had before 
in any film."^' He also said, "I'm quite pleased that the band managed 
to achieve a film like this in the middle of all the insanity of a big tour. 
I think the Stones really deserved it."^" The rest of the band was unim- 
pressed, and Keith Richards even publicly criticized the film, saying that 
he didn't "think it's Gone With the Wind" and that the interest shown 
"doesn't justify pretending it's a real movie, it isn't."^^ Loewenstein con- 
tends, "Keith, Charlie [Watts], and Bill Wyman were never keen on the 
film angle. They said 'We tour, we perform, and we don't want to have 
to do anything else.' But because of [Ashby's] name and reputation I 
said, 'You can't turn down such a talented director.' They imagined the 
film would turn out as it did, whereas Mick and I thought the opposite. 
They just said 'I told you so.'" Loewenstein's regret was that the film 
lacked "creative thought, wit, intelligence — all the things that you had 
before with Hal Ashby."" 

Despite the fact that Ashby had seemingly delivered exactly what 
Jagger asked for, Loewenstein and many others came away feeling that 
they expected more from "A Hal Ashby Film." But if Let's Spend the 
Night Together falls short of the mark, it is in large part because Jagger's 
idea of a "document" of the Tattoo You tour was too simplistic to be 


Old Man 

I've been first and last 
Look at how the time goes past 
But I'm all alone at last 
—Neil Young, "Old Man" 

In Let's Spend the Night Together, as Mick Jagger sings the lines "When 
you're old, when you're old / Nobody will know" from "She's So Cold," 
there is a cut to Ashby sitting on a sofa backstage, bare chested and 
wearing shades, waving at the camera. And he does look old, the effects 
of the stress, trauma, and hard work of the past few years all too visible 
on his face. This cameo appearance was a dig at himself but also an ac- 
knowledgment that he was no longer a young man of boundless energy, 
that he didn't get up so quickly anymore when he was knocked down. 

"You know, some people think you're dying," Jack Nicholson had 
told him sometime in 1982. 

"Dying?" Ashby responded with an incredulous laugh. 

"Yes!" said Nicholson. 

Ashby related this story to Dale Pollock, arts editor of the Los An- 
geles Times, quipping, "I never got swamped by so much damn work in 
my life, but I didn't know it killed me."' 

Ashby had spoken to Pollock just after the release of Lookin' in an 
attempt to give the film a push, breaking his silence after a number of 
years of not giving interviews. Mike Kaplan, who set up the interview, 
wrote to Ashby saying that Pollock, a friend of Kaplan's, was "a fan 
(saw Being There four times) and can be trusted. I discussed the Lookin' 
to Get Out situation with him — off the record, and he feels it can be 
finessed without hurting the movie. "^ 

Over the course of two interview sessions, Ashby and Pollock had 


Old Man 


in-depth discussions about Ashby's life and, in particular, the events of 
recent years. When asked about the rumors of his heavy drug use, Ashby 
ascribed them to the fact that he had admitted to smoking marijuana, say- 
ing, "I hear all this stuff, but I personally don't get alarmed. As I go on with 
my life, I can't recall the last thing I heard about myself that was true."^ 

He called his time at Lorimar "as heavy a period in my life as I ever 
want to have." "I've run into more frustration than I could ever imagine," 
he continued, enigmatically adding, "It's made me think about things I 
don't usually think about." Having his house and editing rooms in Mal- 
ibu, an hour from Los Angeles, had inevitably earned him a reputation 
as an "inaccessible" recluse, but Ashby had no regrets about his isolation 
from Hollywood. "I see people there start to fall into the wrong things," 
he said. "They start living their lives on simple levels where they didn't 
know the difference between right and wrong.'"* 

While Pollock's article gave such intriguing insights into Ashby's 
views, it was ultimately sensationalist. Titled "Whatever Happened 
to Hal Ashby?" it focused on the failure of Second Hand Hearts and 
Lookin' to Get Out and even included a sidebar of numerous quotes 
from (mostly negative) reviews of the latter. Ashby was, however, given 
a forum to detail how Lorimar had systematically mishandled his films. 
(Lee Rich responded to these accusations by saying, "They're all ri- 
diculous. Why even dignify them by answering them? They deserve no 
answer.") Nevertheless, the portrait Pollock painted of Ashby was one 
of a director in decline. The article opened by saying, "For the last three 
years, Hal Ashby seems to have disappeared. . . . There have been ugly 
rumors that Ashby was in ill health, burned out by drugs, incapable of 
completing a movie."' This negative image was compounded by a huge, 
unflattering photo of Ashby, looking spaced out. 

An incensed Mike Kaplan wrote to the Times, criticizing Pollock's 
article, and giving the backstory behind the druggy-looking photo of 
Ashby: "During the first interview session, which lasted over two hours, 
nearly 50 photographs must have been taken by The Times photogra- 
pher. Ashby wears glasses all the time, alternating the tints depending 
on the light. After the first hour or so of the session, he removed his 
glasses to readjust his eyes and pause for a moment. It was then that 
what appears as the cover shot was taken, providing the reader with a 


Being Hal Ashby 

decidedly distorted look at Ashby, but one which when joined with the 
exploitative headline, fulfills the editorial intent. 

Pollock cannot particularly be blamed for tailoring his piece to fit 
the existing perception of Ashby. By this stage, Hollywood had already 
made up its mind that the widely expressed explanation for Ashby's career 
decline — namely, that he was burned out on drugs — was true. Ashby had 
long been an unashamed pot smoker and in 1977 had (naively) admitted 
to using cocaine to none other than the New York Times, so there was 
a degree of logic in the assumptions of those who ascribed the failure 
of his films in the early 1980s to problems with drugs. Yet many of the 
people making these claims conceded that they had never seen Ashby 
taking drugs and, moreover, that he had always been lucid, charming, 
and businesslike in his dealings with them. 

The truth was that during this period Ashby did indeed use other 
drugs than marijuana and would sometimes take cocaine, usually with 
friends, or quaaludes with his girlfriend, editor Cathy Peacock. Chuck 
Mulvehill, who was close with Ashby for much of his professional ca- 
reer, says Ashby used drugs, "but I never thought of him as an addict." 
According to Mulvehill, because of Ashby's hippie image, "people just 
assumed he was a drug addict," and drugs became a scapegoat.^ How- 
ever, while Ashby's drug use may have made him difficult to be around 
at times and exacerbated the darker sides of his personality, it did not 
significantly change the way he directed. And Ashby himself certainly 
did not think so. When asked later about the decline in the quality of his 
films in the 1980s, he said, "Not quality. Success. Difference."* 

While Ashby publicly insisted that the idea of a decline in his work was 
a fallacy, he was nevertheless well aware that he was no longer working 
in a Hollywood that supported artists like himself. Yet there is no ques- 
tion that, drugs aside, Ashby himself had contributed to the problems 
of his Lorimar films. His idealistic insistence on giving young editors a 
break led him to consistently engage inexperienced crews unqualified to 
competently edit the large amounts of footage he shot, and more damag- 
ing still was his uncommunicative and alienating attitude toward his 

After cutting all ties with Lorimar, Ashby found himself being sued 
by his former employers, who claimed he was liable for the huge costs 

Old Man 


incurred on Lookin' to Get Out. Faced with the possibility of having 
to pay the approximately $2.3 million that Lorimar was demanding, 
Ashby filed for bankruptcy, a calculated move to prevent the studio from 
getting a penny out of him in the foreseeable future. 

The situation was further complicated by Ashby bringing a counter- 
claim against Lorimar in 1984 on multiple counts, a move he had consid- 
ered making three years earlier. Lorimar's treatment of Ashby radically 
and detrimentally changed the course of his career, and although Ashby 
stopped doing business with the studio in 1982, it was a tragic irony that 
his court battles with Adelson's company dragged on until 1987, past the 
time when he directed his last film. 

Ashby's recent lack of success made him cautious about taking on a new 
film, but he nevertheless attached himself to a number of projects and 
continued to seek out new ones. (He also got an agent for the first time 
in almost a decade, Jeff Berg at ICM, who was presumably brought in by 
Ashby to act as a buffer between him and the moneymen.) Handcarved 
Coffins still had not been made, but it appeared to have slipped away 
from Ashby, as a number of other directors (Roman Polanski, Jonathan 
Demme, Sidney Lumet) were being linked with it, while Kalki was put 
into turnaround in early 1983. In the latter stages of 1982, Ashby was 
leaning toward doing Hawkline Monster with Jack Nicholson, but the 
idea was put on ice when it briefly looked like Ashby's former Coming 
Home colleague Bruce Gilbert would hire him to direct Jack the Bear 
(which was finally released in 1993, directed by Marshall Herskovitz). 
Ashby continued to flirt with musical projects, including Willie Nelson's 
idea of turning his as-yet-unreleased album Tougher Than Leather into 
a film: the legendary country singer invited Ashby to his ranch near 
Austin, Texas, and even flew him there on his private jet, but the film 
never got past the drawing-board stage. 

Mike Medavoy at Orion Pictures was keen to reestablish a part- 
nership with Ashby after their success together at United Artists and 
suggested two possible projects. The first was Modern Bride, a romantic 
comedy starring Diane Keaton, who had twice previously tried to get 
Ashby to collaborate with her. Unfortunately, it collapsed — owing to 
problems over the budget and differences with Keaton — just as contracts 
were about to be signed. Bake and Shake, the second proposed film. 


Being Hal Ashby 

was a basketball comedy written for Ashby by longtime friend Rudy 
Wurlitzer, with their mutual friend Nicholson touted as a possible star. 
A zippy, picaresque comedy about down-on-his-luck black pimp Shake 
Indigo and his old friend Bake MacLain, a white basketball coach, it 
didn't ultimately strike the right note with either Orion or Universal, 
which both passed on it. 

In late 1982, Dustin Hoffman announced that he wanted to make a 
sequel to Kramer vs. Kramer, and he and Ashby began working on it. In 
the follow-up film, which was referred to as Kramer II or simply K-II, 
Ted Kramer and his son move in with a divorcee who has a child with 
Down syndrome. Along with producer Gail Mutrux, Ashby learned ev- 
erything he could about Down syndrome, reading articles and studies on 
the subject, and meeting families who had children with the condition. 

At the same time, Ashby, Hoffman, and Mutrux were researching 
Hiroshima with an eye to developing a related film. Ashby's interest 
in the subject had been reignited after reading John Hersey's 1946 ex- 
tended Netv Yorker article "Hiroshima" in book form. The dropping of 
the atomic bomb had been a preoccupation for Ashby, as it was — like 
the day of the 1968 presidential election, around which Shampoo was 
based — a time at which America took a huge and irreversible step in 
the wrong direction. In 1963, he had written to his mother, saying, "I 
wonder if Man will ever stop hating Man? We always want to lash out 
and hurt somebody else. It makes me sick at heart whenever I think 
about it. I saw a show last night with some of the crew from the plane 
that dropped the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima. As you know, none of them 
knew exactly what it was they were dropping. It has had tremendous 
after-effects on many of them. . . . [The pilot] was so moved that he 
wrote, 'My God, what have we done.'' I did see this man on a show some 
years ago and as he told about it he started to cry. Right on TV, in front 
of millions of people, he broke down and cried. I wanted to tell him we 
were all responsible, not just him. Well, I'm upset now. . . ."' 

While Ashby and Ian Bernard had been inexperienced unknowns 
when they attempted to examine the repercussions of Hiroshima in The 
Sound of Silence, Ashby was now a veteran director whose handling 
of the fallout from Vietnam in Coming Home amply qualified him to 
tackle America's collective guilt about Hiroshima. In the spring of 1983, 
Ashby went to Japan (just as his alter ego, David Cassidy, had done in 

Old Man 


The Sound of Silence) to see and absorb the atmosphere of the places he 
had only read about or seen in pictures. It was not an enjoyable trip; he 
got very ill in Tokyo as the city's smog irritated his lungs, still sensitive 
after the damage done by the dust storm on Bound for Glory. Though 
his interest in the subject continued, the Hiroshima film was yet another 
project that never came to fruition. 

Just before his trip to Japan, Ashby had gone to Iowa with actress 
Jessica Lange and writer William Witliff to meet with local farmwork- 
ers in Des Moines. Impressed by Ashby's work, and Bound for Glory in 
particular, Lange had interested him in a project with the working title 
Modern Day Farm Drama (later called Country), a contemporary film 
about farmers' extreme financial difficulties, in the vein of The Grapes of 
Wrath. He was signed on to supervise Witliff writing the screenplay and to 
direct the movie in the fall of 1983, capturing the corn harvest on film as it 
happened. The Ladd Company, headed by former Fox boss Alan Ladd Jr., 
had taken on the film but was obHged to drop the project after financial 
problems with The Right Stuff {19 S3) and other films. Lange and Witliff 
shopped the project around every studio in town, but none saw the ap- 
peal of a dour picture about failing farmers. They were close to giving up 
when Touchstone, Disney's new offshoot that made live-action films for 
a more mature demographic, agreed to fund Country if the budget could 
be reduced from $11 to $8 million. The very next day, Ashby inexplicably 
withdrew from the project. As it had been sold as a package that included 
Ashby as director, this almost scuppered the Touchstone deal. 

Looking at Ashby's activities in 1983, one is struck by the fact that, 
despite the rumors of a drug addiction that made him unemployable, 
many of Hollywood's major players were clamoring to work with him. 
And yet despite the huge number of projects he was involved in, he did 
not direct a single one of them. It is very revealing that exactly when 
Country had received a definite green light and was only weeks away 
from starting, he said he had no desire to direct it. Ashby was in the 
habit of attaching himself to projects, but when it came down to it, 
it seems he had neither the appetite nor the energy to take on a major 
production in the wake of his experiences with Lorimar. 

In Ashby's old pad on Appian Way, one of the most striking things he 
had added to the decor was a montage painting of the Rolling Stones 


Being Hal Ashby 

and Neil Young, his two favorite recording acts at the time. Young, like 
Jagger, was also a friend. Let's Spend the Night Together had sprung 
from Ashby's kinship with Jagger, and, after dropping out of Country, 
Ashby reconnected with Young to film one of his concerts, thirteen years 
after their aborted collaboration on The Landlord. 

Young and Ashby's career trajectories had been remarkably similar. 
Both started out in the late 1960s to great success and peaked in the 
1970s — when Ashby was making his landmark films and Young record- 
ing classic albums such as Harvest and After the Gold Rush — and both 
had major career slumps in the 1980s. Finding his folk-rock stylings no 
longer of interest to the public. Young visibly floundered, trying to ac- 
climate to the change in musical taste. In 1983, he released two records. 
Trans, in which he experimented with electronic music, and Everybody's 
Rocking, which was recorded with the 1950s throwbacks the Shocking 

The concert Ashby was asked to film — at the Harrah Arena in 
Dayton, Ohio, on September 18, 1983 — was part of Young's 1983 Solo 
Trans tour. The show was staged in three parts: first he played his much- 
loved songs from the 1960s and 1970s, then he moved on to the electro- 
pop of Trans, and finally, after a costume change, reappeared with the 
Shocking Pinks. Ashby's production was framed by contributions from 
faux television anchorman Dan Clear (played by Newell Alexander), 
whose enthusiastic backstage reportage was seen by the audience on a 
big screen at the back of the stage. It was yet another aspect of the show 
that was self-consciously modish and an unfortunate misjudgment on a 
par with Young's decision to do a vocoder reworking of "Mr. Soul," a 
song he had first recorded with Buffalo Springfield in 1968. 

Ashby, with a crew of thirty-five people, turned up in Dayton the 
day before the show and employed a much less elaborate and expensive 
approach than he had with the Stones, opting for just seven cameras. 
The film crew and the road crew gelled quickly but faced a serious set- 
back when Young discovered that the stage had been made five feet high, 
far too elevated for the cameramen to get the shots needed. Overnight, 
the roadies took down and then reassembled the stage so as to be ready 
in time. "I'm going to have T-shirts made with 'Mr. Popularity' on the 
chest," Young joked, "and below that, 'Pull It Down And Put It Up 
Again Lower.' "i° 

Old Man 


Ashby was unfazed by the drama, having dealt with much greater 
crises in the past. The morning after the panic, Ashby took Young 
through the plans for the show, letting him climb up onto the camera 
crane to see exactly how certain shots would look. That night, the show 
went well, and the audience loved Young. He began with his classic songs 
"Heart of Gold," "Old Man," and "Ohio"; after that, his adoring fans 
were putty in his hands despite the fact that he was clearly struggling 
with his musical identity. 

It must have been poignant for Ashby to reflect on the difference 
between the film director and the singer: while Young could go from city 
to city, feeling the appreciation of fans everywhere by playing old songs, 
Ashby had no such luxury. As a director, he was an unseen figure, al- 
most totally unacknowledged by the public, whose fate lay in the hands 
of his employers. 


The Slugger's Wife 

I guess the idea of losing is enough to turn most people, es- 
pecially men, into full out idiots. In sports it's better. You 
don't like to lose, but it's okay if you do. You're trained for 

it in sports. Crowds will boo, hiss, put you down for losing, 
but they'll keep coming back for the wins. It doesn't work the 
same way in life — when you lose, you're a loser. You can't 
keep getting up like they do in football. Actually, you can, it 
just doesn't seem like it. 
—Hal Ashby 

Producer Ray Stark was a fan of Hal Ashby's, having twice gone to the 
trouble of writing him to say how much he admired his work. He had 
told Ashby he'd done "a damn good job" on The Last Detail.^ Later, he 
mentioned in a letter that Peter Sellers had told him about Being There 
while they were shooting Murder By Death (1976), adding: "[Sellers 
was] very lucky . . . that [he] didn't make the film [Being There] with 
me. I never could have contributed to the making of a film from a book 
which I wasn't quite knowledgeable enough to know how to dramatize." 
Ashby, he said, was "a remarkable talent with a remarkable range and I 
hope someday we'll have the privilege of working together."^ 

Though a latecomer to filmmaking. Stark had established himself 
in the mid-1960s as one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, 
starting with initial hits Night of the Iguana (1964) and Funny Girl 
(1968) and then consolidating with a string of films with Neil Simon, 
arguably the most respected comic dramatist of the period. Stark's 
dominance as a producer was fueled by a desire to control everything: 
his telephone conversations began "Are you alone? . . . Are you sure? 
. . . And what we say will go no further? . . . Swearzyf"^ Though the 
bedrock of his success was his close and highly lucrative relationship 


The Slugger's Wife 


with Simon, the pair had fallen out after making Seems Like Old Times 
(1980), a film based on Simon's marital problems with his wife, actress 
Marsha Mason. In 1982, Stark and Simon were reconciled, by which 
time Stark had produced the infamous flop Annie (1982) and Simon was 
on a run of uncharacteristically mediocre films, including I Ought to Be 
in Pictures (1982) and Max Dugan Returns (1983), that were ever more 
thinly veiled ponderings on his own life and relationships. 

In 1983, Simon and his muse. Mason, announced their divorce; 
however, Simon received a welcome boost when Stark proposed they re- 
commence their partnership on Simon's latest script, The Slugger's Wife, 
a soppy romance about a baseball player's strained relationship with a 
pop singer. Stark had a reverence for anything Simon wrote, while Simon 
respected Stark's absolute authority as a producer (because it was used 
to grant Simon immense authorial control), and the two were excited 
about working together again, convinced that this latest collaboration 
would be the hit they both needed — despite the fact that, in retrospect, 
the confidence in Simon's screenplay seemed like a case of the emperor's 
new clothes. 

Initial whispers in Hollywood suggested that Stark had pulled off a 
coup by getting Warren Beatty (who had not acted since directing him- 
self in 1981's Reds) to play the male lead in The Slugger's Wife. Though 
he saw potential in the script, a cautious Beatty prudently decided not 
to take the role of home-run hitter Darryl Palmer. He wasn't willing to 
be just an actor for hire and wanted a creative role on the film if he were 
to be involved at all. "The problem with The Slugger's Wife was Doc 
Simon," he recalls. "Doc Simon always had complete control — Neil and 
I didn't agree, so I just didn't do the movie.'"* 

Stark had hired Martin Ritt, the veteran director of Hud (1963) and 
Norma Rae (1979), to direct, but health problems forced Ritt to pull 
out; instead, he acted in the film as Burly DeVito, the wily manager of 
Darryl's team. (Ritt was ultimately relieved not to have directed the film 
for Stark, who he declared "has no taste.")' In mid-November 1983, 
Ashby was announced by Stark as Ritt's replacement, with Michael 
O'Keefe unveiled at the same time as the film's star. Though Caddyshack 
(1980) star O'Keefe had won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination 
for his debut role in The Great Santini (1979), it was clear to all that 
Stark's director and actor were not his first choice. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Ashby's decision to sign on was somewhat puzzling as the project 
was badly mismatched with his directorial style and themes, and one 
suspects that he must have been aware of the general poor quality of 
the script. However, the control-obsessed Stark's decision to ask Ash- 
by — who now had a reputation as being a loose cannon — to direct The 
Slugger's Wife is positively baffling, particularly in light of subsequent 
events. Caleb Deschanel, Ashby's director of photography on the film, 
offers the opinion: "Stark hired him because he was down-and-out, and 
they thought they could push him around. I was too embarrassed to ask 
Hal why the fuck he did it! It is likely that Ashby assumed that work- 
ing with Simon and Stark would give his career the kick-start it needed, 
gambling on a problematic script by a great writer because of the cachet 
he believed the project would give him. 

Both Ashby and O'Keefe certainly seemed grateful to be integral play- 
ers in such a high-profile film. O'Keefe embarked on a rigorous baseball 
training program so that he would look like a real slugger, and Ashby did 
his own preparations. His focus, however, was watching stylish comedies 
from Hollywood's Golden Age, including Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka 
(1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and Trouble in Paradise 
(1932), and Frank Capra films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), 
Meet John Doe (1941), and It's a Wonderful Life (1946). As he had done 
before shooting Bound for Glory, he also watched Preston Sturges's films, 
which he found witty, earthy, and deeply human, the epitome of great 

Ashby and Neil Simon were an unusual pairing of director and 

writer, an odd couple to rival Simon's own; Rebecca De Mornay, who 
played O'Keefe's love interest, Debby Huston, called Ashby and Simon 
"the most unlikely combination I could think of."^ De Mornay, like 
Ashby and O'Keefe, was a surprising choice, given that Stark's prelimi- 
nary wish list for Debby included just about every A-list actress, up-and- 
coming starlet, and comedienne in Hollywood — except De Mornay. 
And yet when the front-runner for the role, Darryl Hannah, passed after 
tentatively agreeing to be in the film (incurring the wrath of Stark, who 
sent her a bilious memo and a bouquet of dead flowers), De Mornay 
was offered it instead. Riding high after her eye-catching performance 
as a sexy prostitute opposite Tom Cruise in Risky Business (1983), De 
Mornay was delighted to now be working with Ashby: as a teenager she 

The Slugger's Wife 


had been enchanted by Harold and Maude, which had made her wonder 
what kind of director made strange films Uke that. 

As early as six weeks before production began, Stark was already show- 
ing what kind of a producer he was going to be. He wrote to Ashby 
complaining about Caleb Deschanel, who wanted four or five thousand 
extras for baseball stadium scenes, rather than the fifteen hundred Stark 
proposed. "I believe there must be a clarification," an agitated Stark 
stressed, quickly adding, "Of course you will have as many extras as you 
want. . . . Everyone works differently, Hal, and I certainly respect the 
way you want to work and we will all do everything to facilitate this."** 

This passive-aggressive tone cannot have reassured Ashby that Stark 
would indeed do whatever he (and his trusted collaborators) felt was 
necessary for the film, yet neither did it prepare him for just how in- 
trusive Stark would turn out to be. Despite Ashby having a number of 
his regular crew (Deschanel, Jeff Wexler, his old assistant Lucile Jones, 
costume designer Ann Roth) on board, it soon became clear that The 
Slugger's Wife was not his film but a film he was making for Neil Simon, 
Ray Stark, and Columbia. Long before production began, he was given 
the dates by which his cut and the final answer print of the film were 
to be ready, and he was expected to have product placement for certain 
companies and baseball teams. 

The Slugger's Wife had originally been set in Houston but was moved 
to Atlanta, supposedly because the Houston Astros' ground was not a 
hitter's park but the Atlanta Braves' Fulton County Stadium was. The 
fact that Atlanta was the home of Coca-Cola, which owned Columbia, 
may also have been a factor. 

After a week of rehearsals, the planned twelve-week shoot began in 
Atlanta on March 14, 1984, and Ashby was immediately made to feel 
accepted. On his arrival, he found a card from Ray Stark: "Dear Hal, It's 
going to be a ball — and a ballgame! Love, Ray."' Simon similarly showed 
a reassuring positivity and warmth toward Ashby by sending him a 1920 
first edition of Zane Grey's The Redhead Outfield and Other Baseball Sto- 
ries, inscribed, "To Hal, Thought this might make a good sequel. Looking 
forward to the 'Slugger.' Warmest wishes, Neil Simon."^" 

De Mornay was excited about her role, which, after the switch 
from Texas to Georgia, had been changed from a country-and-western 


Being Hal Ashby 

singer to a pop singer from Atlanta. Unfortunately, however, despite two 
months of vocal lessons, there were problems right from the start. Two 
weeks in, Ashby lost confidence in De Mornay's ability to pull off a 
Southern drawl and was forced to scrap all her dialogue he had shot 
so far and reshoot with her speaking normally. In Michael O'Keefe's 
opinion, "Rebecca De Mornay was in over her head with the singing and 
acting aspects of the role."" This view was reflected by Jeff Wexler, who 
called her "clueless, just impossible. "^^ 

Ashby coaxed De Mornay through the film as best he could, and 
the actress today recalls how his "liberal, non-judgmental vibe created 
an environment where you felt free to do or say anything."" Ashby was 
particularly protective of her after, on top of her accent problems, she 
was dealt another blow — this one literal. Tornadoes hit the set on three 
separate occasions during the shoot, and the winds were so extreme 
during the first storm that De Mornay's trailer, where she was working 
with her drama coach, was picked up by a violent gust and landed with 
its door facing upward, trapping her inside. 

"I remember hearing someone hacking his way through the door 
screaming, 'Baby!'" says De Mornay. "It was Hal, his long hair wring- 
ing wet in the rain, and wearing this jean vest, with his arms coming 
through. No one else tried to help, but here was the director on top of 
the trailer, trying to pull me to safety. That completely symbolized the 
beauty and soul of Hal."^"* De Mornay's drama coach sustained torn 
ligaments in his arm, but De Mornay came through with only a bruise 
over her right eye that was covered up with makeup and disappeared in 
a few weeks. 

Ashby worked hard to get the best possible performance from De 
Mornay, but it wasn't easy, and Stark was very disappointed by his lead- 
ing lady. "When she was burdened with an accent, her creative concept of 
hair styles and a confusion on her makeup, her work on the film became 
a terrible problem for you and, therefore, for us," he wrote to Ashby, a 
month into production. "However, it was solved expeditiously and pleas- 
antly with the proper results, because of our working together."'' Stark 
often stressed the virtues of "working together," although this basically 
meant that he, or production manager Jerry Baerwitz ("a weaselly, slimy 
guy," according to Caleb Deschanel), should be consulted about every 
decision, because he didn't trust Ashby to make any on his own.'* 

The Slugger's Wife 


Stark began the same letter by telling Ashby, "Both Neil and myself 
could not be more pleased with the film that has been shot and with the 
good relationship amongst us. I have complete confidence in you, Hal. In 
spite of the fact that the basic communication is really between you and 
Caleb, I am most pleasantly surprised at what appears in the rushes." 
While he expressed his concern here about Ashby's lack of communica- 
tion (a criticism, as ever with Stark, expressed in a seemingly positive 
way), he went on to stress, "As with all the films I do with Neil, my 
primary concern is that Neil's original script is faithfully executed. By 
no means should this frustrate the director's creative work, but it should 
be the result of a communication between you and Neil, which so far 
has been terrific." 

Despite his praise of Ashby's work so far, Stark's inability to control 
his director, and also Caleb Deschanel, increasingly frustrated him. De- 
schanel says that Stark and Baerwitz "were trying to sabotage [Ashby's] 
movie" as all they wanted was "a filmed play," which Deschanel and 
Ashby had no interest in delivering. When conflicts arose between Stark 
and Deschanel, Ashby always sided with his cinematographer because 
he trusted his artistic instincts over those of a producer. "In the midst 
of all that, Hal was always really cool," Deschanel says, "always on the 
side of the creative people who were trying to make the film better." 

Stark was critical of Deschanel for supposedly undermining the film's 
comic elements with his somber lighting, but it was clear to everyone else 
that the lack of laughs was the fault of the writer. Simon, downbeat 
after his divorce, had produced a script that wasn't particularly funny 
in any of its numerous versions. "I was on the set every day rewriting as 
we went along, changing scenes, changing dialogue, adding material," 
said Simon. "I have no loyalty to a funny line. If the scene works better 
without it, out it goes."^' And out they seemingly went, as his declin- 
ing mood changed the film from a (nominally) romantic comedy to a 
decidedly bittersweet romance with only occasional glimpses of Simon's 
comic gifts. 

While Simon was constantly changing the script, even grabbing ac- 
tors just before a take to alter a line, Ashby's contract apparently stipu- 
lated that he was unable to change even the smallest aspect of the script. 
For Ashby, who thrived on working out dialogue with actors, this was a 
serious creative handicap, especially given the material he was working 


Being Hal Ashby 

with. Michael O'Keefe recalls that Simon's script "was not in the best 
shape but I was too inexperienced to really notice that."^" Ashby had 
realized this too and tried to shoot scenes so as to give himself options 
in the editing room. 

Stark, who was also aware of problems with the ever-changing screen- 
play, dealt with them by, as O'Keefe remembers, "trying to go around 
Hal's back like scheduling B camera shoots to pick up scenes that Hal 
had no idea about to be inserted later on. It was pretty childish stuff 
from both of them. The production manager, Jerry [Baerwitz], and Ray 
started making things difficult for Hal when they both realized that the 
film wasn't working. . . . They didn't handle it well and the final outcome 
reflects that."^^ 

Ashby was helpless, inhibited by a writer whose every whim he had 
to follow and a producer more powerful and intrusive than he had ever 
encountered before. "Hal had no mechanism to protect himself from 
producers," says Jeff Wexler. "He couldn't promote himself; he wasn't a 
showman. He just wanted to get the right people together and make the 
movie. "^^ However, Ashby didn't have the right people, and it was clear 
now that this was far from the right movie. When Rudy Wurlitzer visited 
him in Atlanta, he recalls that Ashby "was really suffering. He paid too 
big a price — it was not his film, and he used up too much energy."^^ 

One of the reasons Ashby was using up so much energy was because 
he was battling to get the film made the way he wanted it in the day and 
then staying up half the night. A significant amount of the film was shot 
at the Limelight nightclub in Atlanta. In the film, it is where the baseball 
players congregate and Debby works as a singer, and the venue also 
became the cast and crew's after-hours hangout. Jeff Wexler recalls that 
there was a lot of drinking going on at night and that there was so much 
cocaine around that even Wexler (who usually steered clear) occasionally 
indulged. The police officer in charge of security on the film told Guy 
D'Alema, a Limelight liaison on Slugger, that Ashby was discovered on 
several occasions at 3 or 4 a.m. "in a somewhat intoxicated state sitting 
outside the club's side entrance. They would take him back to his hotel 
and see to it that they got him up to bed."^'' 

Dianne Schroeder had expressed concern to Ashby when she heard 
that Lucile Jones, who she said had in the past cajoled Ashby into snort- 
ing cocaine with her, was working on the film. "I hope that she doesn't 

The Slugger's Wife 


influence you in any negative ways," she had written. "7 don't mean to 
be negative, but I care about you, and never trusted her. So for what 
it's worth. . . Since Bound for Glory, Ashby had tried to stay away 
from cocaine, particularly when in production, but in this case he wasn't 
helping himself with the company he kept: in addition to having Jones 
around, during his time in Atlanta he was living with an extra from the 
Limelight, the focal point of the film's nighttime hedonism. 

Ashby's difficulty committing to one project at this time had a par- 
allel in his inability to commit to even one woman. During the course 
of The Slugger's Wife, he received correspondence from five different 
women declaring their love to him — not including his girlfriend back in 
Los Angeles, Karen Stephens. His reluctance to be tied down, combined 
with his charming and lovable nature, often led these women to become 
obsessive, and Ashby's disinclination to reply to their letters only fueled 
their fixations. Friends such as Beau Bridges have referred to Ashby as 
a magical, wizardly figure, his white beard contributing to the aptness 
of the image, and some of Ashby's conquests felt he had put them under 
his spell. One of them, known only as "The fuckin fairy" or "Prin- 
cess Carleigh," called him Merlin and drew postmarks saying "Oz" or 
"Fairyland" on her letters. For years she wrote him emotionally intense 
letters in an attempt to get him to reciprocate her obsessive love. 

"Darling H — I tried to call your hotel in Atlanta but they don't seem 
to have you registered or something," she wrote in April 1984. "I was 
worried about u becuz i heard you were fucking someone + dislocated 
your shoulder or something maybe your penis — who knows? Well as 
usual i feel like i'm writing to the wizard of oz cuz i never hear from 
you only heresay [sic] like the dislocated prick! . . . No one can figure out 
my sex life cuz i don't have one except for you the Easter bunny who i 
see once a year + then you give me time to take off my clothes + then get 
dressed again. Honestly Hal stop dragging my heart around. I've more 
than payed for anything I've put you through."^* 

"Hal was getting high back in those days," O'Keefe contends, "and it 
didn't do much for him except give him a break at the end of the day. 
He was not communicating well and had I read the signs earlier in our 
work together I could have saved all of us a lot of trouble by asking 
questions earlier. Like 'How come Hal can't really articulate a vision 


Being Hal Ashby 

of the film when we speak?'" The actor says that he did not object in 
theory to Ashby using drugs "as long as it doesn't interfere with personal 
or professional relationships" but adds, "Unfortunately, I think it prob- 
ably did interfere."^'' While there is likely some truth in O'Keefe's rather 
broad statement, the problems with The Slugger's Wife went a great deal 

At the end of May, all the dialogue had been shot, and Simon left At- 
lanta to return to his home in New York. On his departure, he expressed 
major concerns about what he had turned The Slugger's Wife into. In a 
letter to Stark, he declared himself "pretty positive" but admitted, "It's 
always so hard to tell how you feel about a film until you see it put to- 
gether. . . . We've done so much cutting, rewriting and changing of tone, 
that I hope we haven't lost any consistency or forgotten to tell the story, 
which is what we set out to do in the first place. My feeling, as I left, was 
that it was getting to be a musical and as we both know, it's neither a 
story about singing or baseball. It's a love story and if we don't have that, 
we don't have 'nothing.'" He also had grave reservations about Rebecca 
De Mornay and the lack of emotion in her performance: "God knows 
'emotion' is a very broad term and I'm not looking for Lillian Gish in 
Way Down East but as we know, Rebecca has had her problems in that 
department, although by and large, Hal has done a great job with her 
when he goes after what we want." 

Simon ended the above letter by admitting, "I have another eighty 
page rewrite on the script but I haven't the heart to send it in."^^ Even af- 
ter Ashby had shot everything to Simon's specifications, the writer knew 
it still wasn't right. Nevertheless, two days later, after Stark showed a 
large portion of the footage to the studio, he wired Ashby: "The reaction 
of the three Columbia executives to the film this morning made me very 
proud for all of us."^' 

All that remained now was to shoot the crowd scenes in Fulton 
County Park, scenes that were all-important in making the baseball 
sequences exciting and realistic. For months. Stark and his team had 
plotted how to attract the largest possible number of people to the sta- 
dium on the first two weekends in June, given that they'd just be sitting 
around and cheering on cue as there would be no game actually being 
played. Stark publicized the filming of the crowd scenes on a local radio 
station, announcing that there would be prizes for the first people into 

The Slugger's Wife 


the ground and free Coke and hot dogs for all. He confidently predicted 
that there would be twenty- five to thirty thousand but was hoping for 
fifty thousand. On the hot morning of Saturday, June 2 — the first shoot- 
ing day for these scenes — a mere fifteen hundred turned up. Ashby and 
Caleb Deschanel had to tell Stark that this was not even enough to fill the 
relatively small area behind home plate. Stark later complained to Ashby 
that the picture had been budgeted at $19 million but cost $20 million, 
yet he spent a significant amount of money desperately trying to bribe 
the city to come to a nonexistent baseball game. A Pontiac Firebird, a 
Domino's Pizza Indy-racing-style go-cart, a motorcycle, and numerous 
other tempting gifts were all offered up as prizes the following day, with 
$500 given away promptly every half hour, to provide further incentive 
not just to come but to stay. 

With filming almost over, tensions between Stark and Ashby were 
now obvious to all. When Ashby offered a bet of $100 that the crowd 
of twenty-five thousand that Stark predicted would not materialize, the 
producer immediately accepted. Ashby won. The turnstiles registered 
that seven thousand spectators came into the ground, but there was a 
maximum of only four thousand at any one time. 

On the morning of the following Saturday, Ashby's much-needed 
sleep was disturbed by an incessantly ringing phone that he declined to 
answer. When he came on the set, he found a memo from Stark com- 
plaining that the film was over schedule and over budget (which it was 
marginally) and further pressuring Ashby to finish as soon as he could, 
"even if we have to work through the night. 

While waiting for the crowds to turn up later that day, Ashby dic- 
tated an incensed reply: 

I've been working very hard and not sleeping so well, and much 
to your disappointment I fell asleep this morning and slept 
through, for the most part, except for the phone ringing which 
kept waking me up, but I decided not to answer and try to go 
back to sleep. Thank God, for if I'd answered and all you had to 
say was what is in the memo, then I would have been so angry 
I'd never have gotten back to sleep. 

As to your constant reference to communication, please, 
give me a break! When have you, or your production team ever 


Being Hal Ashby 

asked a question that wasn't answered. ... I don't think Jerry 
[Baerwitz] will have to ask me three or four times a day if I'm 
doing my work. I believe I gave him full answers to every ques- 
tion when I started into the stadium today. Before I received this 
memo, which sent me back to my camper with enough anger to 
almost shut me down permanently for the day. However, I'm 
sure I'll rise above it and again go out and at least give 80% to 
the film, and maybe even 100%, once I get involved and can 
forget how angry I am that people can actually stand around 
and see how hard we're all working and still not see it. 

Though Stark was pushing Ashby to finish up production, he had 
slowed down the shooting of an airplane scene by engaging only fifty 
extras, despite there being three hundred seats on the plane set. "I know 
you don't care how it looks to have fifty people on a plane that holds 
over 300, but I do. I think it would look stupid," Ashby complained. 
"But what the hell, that's my problem, right[?]"^' 

To everyone's relief, the film wrapped a few days later. "We just 
knew it wasn't going to be a good movie," Jeff Wexler admits. 

After driving cross-country back home to California, it wasn't long be- 
fore Ashby got into yet another argument with Stark, this time over his 
desire to edit in Malibu rather than in Los Angeles. Ashby was in the 
end allowed to edit the film at his home, on the express condition that he 
be available to communicate with Stark and his associates as and when 
they required. By this time, Neil Simon's regular supervising editor, 
Margaret Booth, a legendary figure in Hollywood whose career began 
in the 1920s, had put together her cut of the film. Stark and Columbia 
were determined that the film should have a December release, so Ashby 
was required to have a director's cut within a few days. It was, however, 
a few weeks before he was ready to show it to Stark and Simon. He 
had made some radical changes, most significantly, scrapping the script's 
flashback framework, which he felt was necessary to overcome the film's 
narrative problems. 

"The big problem came," Ashby said, "when I found out some days 
later the cut was to [sic] radical for good ole Neil and he wouldn't look 
past reel 2."^^ Ashby was stung by Simon's reaction and refused to an- 

The Slugger's Wife 


swer his phone when a furious Stark called repeatedly to reprimand him 
for his audacity in straying from Simon's script. Finally, Ashby agreed to 
attend a screening on July 31, after which he and Stark were to discuss 
the editing of Slugger. Ashby did not, however, turn up. 

Ashby was reluctant to participate in the editing process when he 
was being treated like Stark's employee and Simon had such sway, but 
he wasn't ready to give the film up. Columbia's Robert L. Robinson in- 
formed him that if he persisted in his behavior, the film would be edited 
without him. Trying to force Ashby's hand, Robinson told him a few 
days later that reshoots and additional filming had been scheduled and 
that if he wished to be involved, he would have to respond by the end 
of the day. Ashby did not respond but instead contacted the Directors 
Guild of America (DGA) in an attempt to protect his right to edit The 
Slugger's Wife as laid out in the DGA regulations. 

Ashby's decision to involve the DGA changed the whole complexion 
of the conflict. Columbia countered by writing to Ashby, "Your unpro- 
fessional conduct during the past several months has been and continues 
to be shocking to us, is violative of your contractual obligations and has 
jeopardized the timely completion and release [of The Slugger's Wife]."^'* 
Through the deliberate choice of words and phrases and claims of "un- 
professional conduct," Columbia demonstrated that it was poised and 
willing to sack Ashby. 

Not wanting an unnecessary battle, Ashby recalled, "I stepped out of 
the picture so they could continue on to meet the Xmas date. All I asked 
was to view the film, when they felt it was ready, to see if I wanted my 
name on it. They said I could look at it right away. So I looked, thought 
it was dreadful, and asked to have my name taken off."'' Ashby was not 
alone in his opinion. In an attempt to rescue Slugger, Columbia Pictures' 
president, Guy McElwaine, begged Ashby to come back onto the film 
and got Stark to agree that this was the best course of action. A plan 
was concocted to say that Ashby needed oral surgery and use this excuse 
to explain why the Christmas release had been scrapped and the film 
would now come out at Easter. A settlement agreement was prepared by 
Stark's lawyers in an attempt to clear up the dispute between him and 
Ashby, but the proposed terms on which Ashby was to be brought back 
were far from favorable. He was obliged to deliver the finished film by 
a date in early 1985 and waive all creative rights, including the right to 


Being Hal Ashby 

use a pseudonym (such as the traditional Alan Smithee credit) if he were 
unhappy with how the movie ended up. Stark had final cut rather than 
Ashby, and though he could initially cut the film to his own wishes, 
after that Stark could tell him how to change it if he did not approve of 
Ashby's editorial choices. 

Once again, Ashby wanted to cut the film in Malibu, but after the 
previous problems. Stark was understandably unwilling to yield on this 
point. In a desperate move, Ashby met with Stark (who attended with no 
less than nine of his attorneys) and asked to be allowed to leave the film, 
even offering up 5 percent of his fee ($75,000). McElwaine once again 
stepped in, insisting that Ashby was to be paid in full, and then asking 
him to take a look at the film and offer any suggestions. 

A plea to salvage the film appealed to Ashby's rescuing impulse, 
and in October he sat down to try to bring the best out of The Slugger's 
Wife. Two months later he had completely recut the film and managed 
to solve a major problem by balancing the events leading up to Darryl 
and Debby's marriage with the other half of the story, the breakdown of 
their marriage. Ashby showed the first half of the film to Columbia and 
Stark, and Ashby remembered receiving their "support which they gave 
wholeheartedly. They were thrilled and amazed at how much I'd done 
in so short a time." 

With only the final baseball game to cut, Ashby screened the rest 
of the film: "And that's when Ray started with that b.s. that he was just 
going to have Maggie [Booth] make some changes to show me, and I told 
him it didn't work that way."^* 

Ashby withdrew from the film a second time, though this failed to 
end the conflict. On December 20, Variety reported, "Ashby and Stark 
have been trying to resolve differences over the final cut, and they've 
been trying almost as hard to keep the squabble from becoming a public 
confrontation. [Neil] Simon . . . said he has been told by Stark that 
the problems between him and Ashby have been ironed out and that 
both are 'delighted' with the present version. However, Ashby did not 
subscribe to that view when informed of it, and acknowledged that he 
is not 'tickled pink.' He begged off further comment in the hope that 
remaining conflicts may be resolved quietly behind the scenes."^^ 

Stark and Columbia punished Ashby's departure from the film by 
moving his "Directed by" credit from the opening credits to the closing 

The Slugger's Wife 


credits. Despite the fact that Ashby had wanted the right to remove his 
name from the film if he wished, their actions angered him on principle. 
His reaction was to once again approach the DGA, which agreed that his 
directorial rights had been infringed upon but awarded him a minimal 
$2,500 in damages. 

In February 1985, Ashby was interviewed by Catherine Wyler for 
Directed by William Wyler (1986), a documentary about her father. In 
a telling moment, he recalled pointing out to Wyler that his 1939 film 
Wuthering Heights was playing at a cinema across the street. "I just 
poked Willy and I said, 'Hey look, how 'bout that?'" Ashby related. 
"I'm sure his mind was well into the other picture [The Children's Hour 
(1961), which was then being edited], but he said, 'Oh, yeah. You know 
I shot a much better ending than is on the picture.' I was astounded. I 
said, 'What do you mean?' He proceeded to tell me . . . that Goldwyn 
didn't like the ending that Willy had on the picture, and that he had had 
another ending shot. I mean, my God, that's absolutely amazing. ... I 
remember at first it just startled me, and it made me see how strong a 
person Goldwyn was, and it also showed me the incredible thing about 
how you get over something, how at a later time you can not have the . . . 
Because it didn't bother Willy, he just said it, matter of fact. It was like, 
'Oh sure, that went on,' and so forth. "^^ 

For Ashby, whose battles over Slugger were still raw, painful memo- 
ries, Wyler's calm, impassive response to his experience with Wuthering 
Heights was an example of a detachment he was incapable of feeling. 
Wyler cared deeply about his films but had taught himself to let go when 
he had to; Ashby, however, saw every skirmish on every film as intensely 
personal and could not let go of the hurt. 

It is unclear what changes were made to The Slugger's Wife after Ashby's 
departure in December 1984, though Stark's intention of having Marga- 
ret Booth (who had a reputation as a biddable editor willing to tailor a 
film to the studio's needs) alter Ashby's work suggests that it most likely 
underwent a significant transformation. Michael O'Keefe says, "Marga- 
ret and Ray didn't use the best takes, ignored Hal's selected takes and 
notes from shooting, and used the last take, instead of the best take. At 
that point the word 'disaster' would best describe what came of it."^' 
By early March, Columbia was selling Slugger's Wife T-shirts and 


Being Hal Ashby 

the sound track featuring Rebecca De Mornay singing the film's theme 
song, "Oh, Jimmy," in anticipation of its release later that month. Re- 
viewers, who had excitedly anticipated the film on the basis of its roster, 
brutally attacked Slugger after actually seeing it. In the New York Times, 
Janet Maslin called it "resoundingly unfunny" and said that Ashby had 
made "a mess of The Slugger's Wife" with direction that was "humorless 
and unsteady.'"*" Rex Reed, a huge fan of Being There, now declared, 
"[Ashby has] no aptitude for comedy, and from the looks of things, he 
hasn't got much aptitude for anything. What happened to the once- 
stylish, deeply committed director of films like Coming Home and Har- 
old and Maude?'"*^ 

Merrill Shindler of Los Angeles Magazine expressed the opinions of 
many by admitting: "Though the credits say that the film was written 
by Neil Simon and directed by Hal Ashby, it's hard to believe either of 
them was genuinely connected with it." The review went on to deem 
Slugger "a bad Hal Ashby film from a very bad Neil Simon script.""*^ 
Newsweek's David Ansen simply declared that it would have been "bet- 
ter [if] someone had stolen the whole script and hidden it."''^ 

There was widespread criticism of not only the leads' acting but 
also the attempt to appeal to a young audience, and Variety dismissed 
Slugger as "yet another example of a soundtrack album accompanied by 
a film.'"''' Caleb Deschanel, the target of much of Stark's wrath during 
production, actually emerged from the film with much distinction, and 
Martin Ritt's turn as weary Braves manager Burly De Vito also drew 
well-deserved praise. There was a terrible irony that the best perfor- 
mance came from Ritt, a director who had only ever acted once before. 

Ashby's legal agreement with Stark contained a disparagement clause 
that essentially prevented Ashby from bad-mouthing the film — Simon, 
however, was free to say whatever he wanted. Though he did publicity 
for the film, just two weeks after its release he declared his true feelings 
about it. "I saw the first screening and said, 'What happened to the 
movie?'" he admitted. "You don't like to air dirty laundry and complain 
publicly about a picture and say, 'Well, that's not really my movie.' . . . 
And I've had pictures that have bombed out and I say, 'Well, I didn't do 
that well.' But I don't say that about The Slugger's Wife because what's 
left of what I'd done is very little. They've decided — other people, I don't 
know who — that we've got to market this for the kids, which is not 

The Slugger's Wife 


what I wrote about. I have 50 pages of script that never appear in the 
film. There would have been very little music in the film. They decided 
to make an MTV out of it. It's what happens when somebody aims a 
picture at a certain market and one of the reasons I get nervous about 

The Slugger's Wife is perceived by Simon as such a low point in 
his career that it is his only film or play that does not get a single men- 
tion in either of his two volumes of memoirs. Stark, conversely, seemed 
compelled to bring up the film regularly, to demonstrate that he was 
aware what a terrible picture it was and that he regretted his role in its 
production. He said he blamed himself most for hiring Ashby. 

Ashby himself made no public declaration about The Slugger's Wife 
but when asked a year or so later what he thought of it said, "I didn't 
like Slugger's Wife. That is . . . the picture I liked the least.'"** Hollywood 
Reporter critic Duane Byrge wrote that one had "to assume that Hal 
Ashby may have chosen to direct this one from the third-base dugout,'"*^ 
and in fact just how much of it was Ashby's film remains unclear. During 
filming, Ashby was hounded and impeded by Stark and compelled to 
cede control at times to Simon, and even during his stint of editing the 
picture he claimed it was being cut behind his back by Stark or others. 
Ashby departed the film three months before it was deemed finished, so 
presumably Stark and Simon were the primary forces behind the film's 
final cut. It seems genuinely confusing then — given that Stark had told 
Ashby that his "primary concern is that Neil's original script is faithfully 
executed" and then was incensed when Ashby's initial cut of the film did 
not conform to Simon's screenplay — that Simon was so publicly critical 
of the film and blamed others for its major faults. 

What is truly unique about The Slugger's Wife, when compared with 
any of Ashby's previous films, is how bland and devoid of his directo- 
rial presence it is. Whereas in all his other efforts his personality was 
discernible to one degree or another, here it seems to have been entirely 
suppressed. The only signs that it is a Hal Ashby film are his cameo (he 
plays a customer in a cafe who sits opposite O'Keefe just before the actor 
smashes up the place in anger) and the dominant presence of popular 
music, although the latter is so faddish and mediocre that it no doubt 
had more to do with Stark and Columbia's attempt to make the film hip 
than Ashby's own taste. 


Being Hal Ashby 

The critical mauling The Slugger's Wife received had a massive im- 
pact on its box-office performance. Though a high-profile, megabudget 
movie made by highly respected individuals, it was a huge flop, taking 
only $1.8 million in receipts, less than 10 percent of what it had cost. 
Fortunately — or maybe not so fortunately — by the time it came out, 
Ashby was already deeply involved in his next directorial project. 


8 Million Ways to Die 

Hal had pissed off Merv Adelson, pissed off Ray Stark, and 
Mark Damon and John Hyde were already pissed off when 
he met them. Let's just say, the planets were aligned. 
— Chuck Mulvehill 

If you think a director can direct a movie with those kinds 
of knives and blades hovering about, then you've got another 
thing coming. 
—Hal Ashby 

Around Christmas 1985, Ashby was sent a copy of Oliver Stone's script 
for 8 Million Ways to Die. It was an adaptation of two crime novels 
by Lawrence Block, 8 Million Ways to Die and A Stab in the Dark, 
both featuring New York detective and recovering alcoholic Matt Scud- 
der. Stone and former Creative Artists Agency "superagent" Steve Roth 
had bought the books a few years earlier intending to make the film at 
Embassy Pictures with Stone as director but were unable to get funding. 
By the end of 1985, Roth had produced two other films and managed 
to interest PSO (Producers Sales Organization) in 8 Million Ways to 
Die. PSO, a former sales company founded by the leading man-turned- 
producer Mark Damon, had just moved into production and also had 
Short Circuit (1986), 9% Weeks (1986), Flight of the Navigator (1986), 
and Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) in the works. 

Although the gritty violence of Stone's script was antithetical to 
Ashby's usual style, he connected with the antihero Scudder sufficiently 
to tell Roth that he would be pleased to direct the film. Early in the new 
year. Roth took him to meet Mark Damon, and he was introduced to the 
PSO boss as the only man for the job. After the meeting, it appeared that 
PSO would hire Ashby, but it also came out that Damon had actually 



Being Hal Ashby 

been interviewing him. Ashby was deeply insulted. "I haven't done that 
for a long time," he said. "I have pictures that people can look at to see 
what kind of work I do."^ Ashby 's hurt pride no doubt came also from 
the suspicion that PSO half expected him to be a washed-up junkie. 

However, despite Roth's continuing reassurances that he wanted 
Ashby on the film, no deal materialized. A subsequent discussion at 
Damon's house in late January clarified that PSO had opted not to go 
with Ashby after all, although Damon acknowledged that he was "a 
highly talented, highly unique filmmaker" who had "had a profound 
effect on international cinema." He added, "I would be proud to work 
with you . . . one day."^ PSO's interest in Ashby had flagged because 
the studio wanted to get Walter Hill and Nick Nolte, the director-star 
team responsible for the massively successful 48 Hours (1982): Hill's 
hard-edged direction was ideal for Stone's script, and Nolte, a notorious 
drinker and Hollywood wild man, seemed a natural for alcoholic ex-cop 

Hill, however, rejected PSO's offer. So, just two weeks after being 
snubbed, Ashby was hired to direct 8 Million Ways to Die after all. 
In a curious chain of command, Mark Damon and his business part- 
ner John Hyde's company PSO was employing Steve Roth, through his 
company SFR Films, to produce the film, which in turn was engaging 
Ashby, through his company Carbon State. Relations between Ashby 
and Damon were off to a bad start, so it was decided Ashby would liaise 
predominantly with Roth. 

Ashby met with Oliver Stone to discuss the script, but he would take 
it in a very different direction than the writer imagined. He began to 
have second thoughts about the New York setting, partly for budgetary 
reasons, but also because there had been so many New York crime films 
before that he felt he had nothing new to add to the genre. Ashby and 
Roth decided to shoot in Los Angeles, which would eradicate travel costs 
and, as Roth explained, "also lets us use a much broader vista, something 
along the lines of Point Blank."^ John Boorman's classic 1967 film, more 
a psychological tale of revenge than a crime film, was the kind of movie 
Ashby was aiming for, and he had very definite ideas about how to handle 
the material. He wanted to avoid the cliched hard-boiled cop formula of 
Stone's script and focus on Scudder's battle with alcoholism as much as 
his attempts to catch his nemesis, the Columbian drug lord Angel, who 

8 Million Ways to Die 


Scudder believes murdered a prostitute called Sunny. To research the 
world of the film, Ashby read "The Social World of the Female Prostitute 
in Los Angeles," a Ph.D. thesis, and went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 
meetings. Noting the habits alcoholics developed to stop themselves from 
thinking about liquor, he laughed, "God Almighty, have you seen so 
many people eating, and smoking, and drinking something?'"* 

Although it had been years since Ashby himself had been a drinker, 
he could easily relate to people with substance-abuse problems and found 
himself strongly attracted to the ideas of AA. After The Slugger's Wife, 
where there were once again rumors of drugs interfering with his work, 
it seems that he made a concerted effort to clean up his act. According to 
Chuck Mulvehill, he would periodically purge himself — ceasing all drug 
use and sometimes even fasting — and he appears to have felt the need to 
do this again. Looking at the parallels between the film and Ashby's life, 
it seems no coincidence that at the start of 8 Million Ways to Die, the 
hero is a maverick with long, shaggy hair and a beard who has decadent 
tendencies that have all but destroyed his career, but who ultimately 
ends the film clean, sober, and happy. 

As Stone was busy in Mexico shooting Salvador (1986) and thus un- 
able to rework the screenplay before production began, Ashby started 
to write his own script for the film. He worked from both Stone's script 
and Lawrence Block's novel 8 Million Ways to Die as well as his own 
research. The fifty pages of script that Ashby wrote had neither the 
fiercely evocative color of Stone's screenplay nor particularly exciting 
dialogue, yet they were the starting point for a much more complex 
and psychologically interesting film and were consciously designed as a 
blueprint that the actors and possibly other writers could move forward 
with later. 

Ashby gave these first fifty pages to Steve Roth (who said he liked 

them) but abruptly stopped work on his screenplay when he discovered 
that, without his knowledge, PSO had hired Canadian author R. Lance 
Hill to rewrite Stone's script. Ashby, who had confidence in his own 
screenplay, felt hurt and told Roth, "I don't think I have ever had that 
one happen to me before."^ He was further upset on learning that Hill 
was to report to Damon, cutting Ashby out of the rewriting process 


Being Hal Ashby 

Ashby accordingly focused his energies on casting. For the part of 
Matt Scudder, it was a choice between Al Pacino and Jeff Bridges. How- 
ever, as Pacino's desire to make the film about alcoholism clashed with 
Roth's vision of "an adventure movie in which alcoholism is just one of 
the demons which the hero must vanquish," Bridges got the nod.* Ironi- 
cally, in Bridges's preparation for the film, he became fascinated by the 
hero's addictive personality. "I was interested in exploring the obsessive 
side of his character," Bridges says. "I went to AA meetings and found it 
to be an incredible organization, with an interesting perspective on how 
to live your life whether you're an alcoholic or not. I wanted to put some 
of that out. I wanted to explore the spiritual aspects of what an alcoholic 
goes through."^ 

Meanwhile, Ashby's main challenge was to cast the two main female 
parts, Scudder's love interest, Sarah, and the murdered woman. Sunny. 
Both characters were prostitutes, which made it difficult to interest big- 
name stars in the roles. Cher, who had been a huge fan of Coming Home, 
was touted as a likely Sarah, but it was Jamie Lee Curtis who was finally 
chosen to play opposite Bridges. However, when Curtis wasn't happy 
with her fee, she jumped ship and was replaced by Rosanna Arquette, 
who had made a big impression alongside Madonna in the just-released 
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). (Incidentally, Ashby had been offered 
that film a few years earlier.) 

For the role of Angel, Ashby hired an exciting unknown actor, the 
Cuban-born Andy Garcia: Garcia was so keen to be in the film, he had 
begged to audition not only for Angel but also for Chance the pimp so 
as to have two shots at being cast. He recalls with amusement when 
Ashby told him he wanted him as Angel and then said he looked forward 
to seeing him the next day for his second audition. With all the other 
major parts cast, Ashby continued to struggle to find the right actress 
for Sunny. Only after filming had started did he finally pick fresh-faced 
twenty-two-year-old Alexandra Paul to play the doomed prostitute. 

In late May, coproducer "Doc" Erickson quit the film after a fight 
with Steve Roth, and Ashby called Chuck Mulvehill asking, "What are 
you doing?" Since parting company with Ashby around 1980, Mulve- 
hill had worked with Bob Rafelson, Jonathan Demme, Ivan Passer, and 
Karel Reisz and established himself as a well-regarded producer and 
production manager. Mulvehill remembers that his wife advised him to 

8 Million Ways to Die 


be cautious about working with Ashby again, knowing how emotionally 
convoluted their relationship had been in the past, but Mulvehill felt 
comfortable with the idea. As it turned out, their dealings on 8 Million 
Ways to Die were much more pragmatic. As Mulvehill says, "The rose- 
colored spectacles were off, but it was the best relationship we'd ever 

Just after Mulvehill joined the film. Lance Hill's script arrived, but 
his rapid rewrite was a disappointment not only to Ashby but also to 
PSO, Roth, and the cast. Stone's grit and vibrant realism were gone, 
and instead Hill had tried to put an intellectual stamp on the film, with 
prostitute Sarah quoting the obscure German poet Heinrich Heine, 
whom she had supposedly read in a journalism course. Ashby felt ma- 
jor changes were still necessary, not least because Hill's draft, which 
included a huge climactic battle at an airport (which Ashby called the 
"Rambo ending"), would push the budget up to $16 million. On a per- 
sonal level, Ashby was also deeply frustrated that Hill was sending new 
pages to PSO rather than him. 

While Ashby was trying to reestablish his authority on the film and 
get PSO to let him work directly with Hill, PSO told him that Robert 
Towne was available. Because of their friendship and the success of their 
previous collaborations on The Last Detail and Shampoo, Ashby con- 
vinced Towne to be the film's script doctor for only $250,000, a quarter 
of his usual fee. PSO had told Hill that it was very pleased with his work 
but wanted him to come to Los Angeles to make a few changes; however, 
that plan was quickly abandoned when Towne was hired. PSO told Hill 
that a close friend of Ashby's was making some "minor cuts" in order 
to reduce the budget, work that would, he was assured, take a few days 
at most. 

Hill was extremely hurt and wrote to Ashby, "Hal, I went to the 
wall and supported both of you all the way, assuming the same united 
stance you had proposed to me. I supported your position ultimately 
by telling PSO I would walk unless you and I could work together the 
way we must. Instead of ultimately supporting me, you let me take the 
fall. Make no mistake about it. Even by Hollywood standards, this is as 
unprincipled and unconscionable an act as there is. No movie and no 
circumstance is worth that kind of compromise."' 

Despite his usual loyalty to creative people, Ashby felt that the qual- 


Being Hal Ashby 

ity of the film was more important than persisting with the wrong writer 
simply to save his feelings. Moreover, he couldn't turn down the oppor- 
tunity to work with Towne: "I knew Bob would lift us right out of the 
good film category and put us into another level immediately. There is 
nobody like him!"^° However, Ashby soon discovered PSO was refusing 
to pay Towne's full salary and was insisting that Ashby and Roth cover 
$150,000 of it. Ashby agreed but found it decidedly strange that PSO 
"didn't even care enough about the picture to pay a full fee for a writer 
that I thought to be the best for the picture, ... a writer that they first 
suggested."^^ "It didn't sit well with me though," he said later, "that I 
had to become an investor in the film in order to protect us and give us 
the best possible shot of having something to really be proud of. For all 
of us."" 

Contrary to what Damon had told Hill, Towne was in fact chang- 
ing the script substantially and doing so with a whole entourage of col- 
laborators, including an ex-cop he had befriended. One of Towne's first 
decisions was to change the title to Easy Does It (a popular AA slogan), 
which signaled his allegiance to Ashby's original intent to move the film 
away from its thriller elements and into more profound psychological 

Towne was highly critical of Hill's efforts, saying, "If this script 
had anymore clarity, it might have risen to the dignity of an exploita- 
tion film." Ashby agreed and confided to Towne that Jeff Bridges had 
told him, "Hal, we gotta figure out how to make this not just another 
movie for exploitation of sex and violence."^^ Both Bridges and Arquette 
had agreed to do the film almost entirely because they wanted to work 
with Ashby, and he was determined not to let their faith in him prove 

By mid-July, Towne had written approximately one-third of the 
new screenplay, but Chuck Mulvehill's estimated budget based on those 

pages was nearly $14 million, $2.5 million more than PSO wanted to 
spend. Mulvehill told Ashby that with smaller locations and a shorter 
production time 8 Million Ways to Die (or was it Easy Does It?) could 
be delivered on budget, though this would naturally increase the pres- 
sure on Ashby. 

PSO also decided to push production back by a week, without con- 
sulting Ashby. Furious, Ashby told Mulvehill, "Any change of the start 

8 Million Ways to Die 


date made only by the production entity is tantamount to a shut down of 
the production as it would mean they had decided, for whatever reasons, 
to tell the director he no longer is the skipper of the ship." 

Responding to a memo from Mulvehill, he addressed issues of con- 
trol on the picture and also frankly addressed his negative reputation 
in Hollywood. "From the looks of it," Ashby wrote to Mulvehill, "if 
you continue to maintain the control you [PSO] have so far, this movie 
stands about as good a chance of going in the toilet as anything I've ever 
seen. Now that I'm on the subject, what's with all the inference that I'm 
somehow out of control, and I must be controlled in order to stop these 
horrendous costs, and bring them into line. That's just plain bullshit and 
you know it! If I'm out of control, it's because the production entity has 
continually refused to let me have control. You can't direct a film when 
every decision you make is either counter-manded or questioned as if 
you were out to do harm to the financiers instead of trying to make a 
good film. Doesn't that approach sound dumb to you. Paying me all that 
money just so I can put you, them, me, and the film in jeopardy." 

"Does anyone really believe I will break or be bent into some other 
shape than I really am," he continued. "Please! Give me a break! I am 
what I am and I make the movies I make, and I'm not going to become 
someone else. If anything I have more resolve, and more strength than 
ever before. I should have, I know more than I ever knew before. I get 
smarter and stronger all the time. 

"As you know Chuck, I've had a lot of crud thrown my way the last 
couple of years. My, my the things that have been said about me. You are 
also one of the only people who really know I've never been addicted to 
anything but work. So most of everything said about me is totally false. 
In fact the only thing anyone could honestly say about me in a negative 
sense is that I'm very difficult to deal with. Especially when the dealing 
entails my rather strong point of view and how it relates to the film I 
happen to be making. ... I guess if they were really fearful because of all 
they've heard, and this made them believe I was some burnt out being just 
pretending to be me, then they would be suspect of every move I make. 
But, my god, if that's what's going on please try to make them understand 
it would really be the wisest thing to replace me as quietly as possible." 

"What is the need to control the so called wayward director — to 
make him more tame, more timid," he asked. "Those things can break a 


Being Hal Ashby 

spirit, and in turn rob that spirit of those bold dreams that are sometimes 
needed when something special is done. This is something I feel about all 
of my films; that they were and are something special. All of them except 
the last and the lessons I learned from that experience are something else 
again. I know it's so heavy on my soul that I will carry the mistake with 
me for the rest of my life. Any stigma acquired by my failure would pale 
in the shadow of the fact I overrode my heart and mind. Something I've 
never done before, and believe me, will never do again. But it lays very 
heavy in me."^'' 

As the start date neared, the budget caused ructions between Ashby and 
PSO: Ashby was willing to shoot the film for a realistic figure of $13.5 
million, but Damon and Hyde would not budge from their $11.5 million 
estimate. Though PSO's directors acknowledged it was impossible to 
estimate accurately given that the script wasn't even half finished, they 
said they could not continue with Ashby as director and told him that 
he was fired. Attorneys were immediately brought in on both sides, and 
just six days before shooting was due to begin, crisis talks were held 
in which PSO proposed a new budget of $12.8 million (including a 10 
percent contingency). Roth and Ashby had an option to collectively post 
a further $550,000 from their salaries (on top of the $150,000 they had 
already posted to pay for Towne's services). If they did this, PSO would 
add another $600,000 contingency to the budget, bringing it to just over 
$14 million; if they did not, Roth and Ashby would not be reinstated. 

Once again putting the film before himself, Ashby swallowed his 
pride and agreed to PSO's conditions. He came back on the film suppos- 
edly with a clean slate but was immediately angered by his employers' 
actions when they informed him of imminent screen tests for a number 
of actresses. Ashby was told he had to attend these because the screen 
tests were in the week when shooting had originally been scheduled to 
start, meaning he was being paid for that period. "So, before I had taken 
step one under our new reunion, I was, once again, treated like a hired 
hand," an exasperated Ashby wrote to John Hyde. "It didn't even matter 
that I'd been fired off the picture. Well John, even if I am a hired hand, 
I'm not a hired hand. I kid you not!" 

In the memo to Hyde, Ashby expressed severe doubts about his 
continued involvement in 8 Million Ways to Die, asking, "Will I be able 

8 Million Ways to Die 


to make my film? What are the compromises being asked? Are they too 
great for me to realize the dream?" Ashby was aware that his reputation 
had changed radically since the 1970s but felt that he was no differ- 
ent now than in those years of heady success. "The implication always 
seems to be that I'm out to be devious and do some vile, harmful thing 
to the film," he told Hyde. "And I can't think of anything further from 
the truth or fact. I'm a tireless worker, and my concern, and cares, for 
any film I do, are so deeply rooted that it makes the idea of my being 
irresponsible in any way, ludicrous." 

Ashby made it clear that he could not make the film if PSO's level of 
influence and interference continued and maintained that not even Ray 
Stark had been as difficult to work with. "On the intimidation level: No 
more 'I better show up because I've been paid for the week,'" he wrote. 
"No more of that stuff, because I don't like it and I don't function at all 
well with it around. Again, the next time someone from PSO feels the 
need to threaten me, I will feel inclined to consider the threat as a fact 
that I've been fired again. "'^ 

Though written in frustration rather than anger, Ashby's memo en- 
raged PSO, and his involvement in the film was once again thrown into 
question. After Damon's initial anger had passed, he actually took on 
board Ashby's concerns and proposed that PSO leave Ashby alone dur- 
ing production, on the condition that there be a PSO representative on 
set to keep an eye on him. Ashby suggested Mulvehill, but Damon was 
understandably concerned about conflicting loyalties and instead chose 
a writer and former stuntman, Don Edmonds. Ashby was happy to have 
Edmonds around — despite his allegiance to PSO — because he was an 
alcoholic and could be used as a "technical adviser" on the film. 

Principal photography began on July 29, but only because Ashby's, Jeff 
Bridges's, and Rosanna Arquette's "pay or play" contracts required PSO 
to pay them more if filming did not start by the end of the month. The 
situation was highly reminiscent of Coming Home: there were still only 
thirty-three pages of script, Ashby "wasn't sure what we were going 
into,"'*" he was essentially shooting from a beat sheet (a rough descrip- 
tion of scenes and action) rather than a real script, the actors were im- 
provising many of their lines, and there was no ending to replace the 
elaborately violent one deemed too expensive to shoot. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Towne was sending pages to the set once he was happy with them, 
but Ashby needed to find a way to move ahead without a complete script. 
His solution was to shoot all the major scenes that he had first and then 
move on to the smaller connecting scenes, thus allowing the actors to 
follow the arc of the story. Despite the challenging circumstances, there 
was a good atmosphere on set simply because Ashby was relaxed and 
having fun, and that began to transfer itself to everyone around him. A 
phrase Ashby was very fond of at the time was "God Almighty!" which 
he would say with his big laugh when he was particularly happy, such as 
when one of the actors nailed a take. 

Ashby quickly established an easy relationship with his new direc- 
tor of photography, Stephen H. Burum, whom Caleb Deschanel had 
used on his directorial debut. The Escape Artist (1982), and especially 
recommended to Ashby. Burum, who was aware of Ashby's tarnished 
reputation as a director, remembers Ashby as a model professional: 
"When I worked with him, he was completely clean — nothing. I worked 
with a lot of people who were on drugs, and it's very easy to tell when 
someone's a druggie or an alcoholic. He was always on time, he was 
always coherent, he didn't have mood swings, his eyes weren't dilated. 
And he was right there. He paid attention to what he was doing, and he 
was very smart about what he did. And the actors just loved him! They 
would do anything for him.''^^ 

The cast was particularly fond of Ashby because he devoted himself 
fully to their needs, listened to their suggestions, and made them feel 
that the film was a shared vision they were all working toward. "For 
my money, Hal Ashby was a master filmmaker, making some of the 
best movies of the 70's," says Jeff Bridges. "He was also a favorite of 
mine to work with. He created an environment of fun and excitement. 
Hal had huge creative cojones. A script for him was simply an outline. 
He approached the work with a Zen attitude — 'not knowing' played an 
important role in the making of his movies. I was asked, as many other 
actors he worked with were, to work through improvisation to discover 
the realities of scenes.'"^ 

Bridges's style of acting was based on studious preparation, involv- 
ing visits to AA meetings and long conversations with the film's two 
police consultants, as he tried to get to the core of Matt Scudder. But 
while he was excellent at building up an in-depth backstory for his 

8 Million Ways to Die 


character, Bridges was not so confident with the improvisational aspects 
of the film, so Ashby would sometimes get Rosanna Arquette to cut 
him off halfway through a line to bring a greater spontaneity to his 
performance. Arquette, like all the other actors, felt hugely supported 
by Ashby and called him "a great actor's director; he's always there with 
you. The guy's an artist, a true, true artist. Hal lets you do your thing 
with a very strong guiding hand."" 

The whole cast's fierce loyalty to Ashby was also due to the calm, 
gentle way he let them know that he always had their backs. One morn- 
ing, Arquette appeared with tears streaming down her face, her makeup 
ruined, and said to Ashby, "Hal, you don't want me to take off my 
clothes, do you?" 

"No!" he exclaimed. "Who said that?" 

"Steve Roth came to my trailer and said I had to take off my clothes 
in this picture."^" 

Ashby took Arquette off the set to calm her down, but it was a 
full five hours later before she was ready again. "I guess they hired me 
because they wanted me to show my tits," she says. "PSO was flipped 
out because I didn't do any nudity. Hal and I decided, 'Why do we have 
to show a hooker fuck?'"^^ 

Alexandra Paul, who was playing the other prostitute, had a nude 
scene in the film and says, "Despite being a little nervous, I remember 
being very comfortable with Hal and not having any problem with his 
being in the room when I had to have no clothes on. We had a real-life 
prostitute that was my consultant, and I interviewed her about my role. 
She was on set, and they gave her a small part, and Hal was very busi- 
ness-like, whereas there were other people on the set who were not so 
businesslike. (I saw one of the crew go upstairs with her!) I remember 
being impressed with that and feeling more comfortable with him." 

Paul admits that when Ashby discussed certain scenes with her "he 
would talk a mile a minute with a little high-pitched 'Ha-ha' interspersed 
[and] I would sit there and nod and not really know what he was saying 
because I was young and stupid. "^^ However, when it really mattered, 
Ashby knew exactly what to say. When Paul was worried about people 
seeing a scar she had when she did her nude scene, Ashby said maybe the 
reason Sunny had become a hooker was because she was ashamed of the 
scar. "Ah," said Paul, satisfied by this suggestion. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Just six weeks after starting work on Easy Does It, which Ashby 
viewed as an original screenplay rather than an adaptation, Towne deliv- 
ered the remaining sections of the script. Towne was famously slow and 
careful, so it was almost inevitable that the script he had rushed off was 
not up to scratch. PSO demanded rewrites, but Towne was not available, 
so Ashby took it on himself to make the necessary changes and actively 
involved his principal cast members in the process. 

Unfortunately, this meant it would be impossible for Ashby to com- 
plete the film in sixty days as Damon had requested. Doc Erickson had 
originally proposed a $13 million budget and a seventy-odd-day shoot, 
and Damon's request to spend less money in less time became a vain 
hope when Ashby, Bridges, and Arquette began spending significant 
portions of shooting days scripting the scenes they were about to film. 
"We were busting our butts, writing and shooting at the same time," 
says Bridges. "I've never worked so hard on a picture in my life! We 
were locked in our dressing rooms writing our asses off." Addressing a 
possible misperception of their actions, he added, "It's not like we were 
in there doing coke or anything. This was the cleanest, hardest-working 
set I've ever been on. I never saw anyone do anything."^'* 

Throughout the course of the film, all the writers who had been involved 
at various stages expressed dissatisfaction at some aspect of how the film 
was being made. On the very first day of filming, Ashby shot the opening 
scene, in which, during a police drugs bust, Towne had written that a 
rocking chair should be grabbed and used as a weapon by one of the 
characters. However, Ashby discovered that none of the rocking chairs 
provided were suitable, as they were either too large to lift or too small to 
be threatening, and he changed the chair to a baseball bat. Towne, who 
had failed to tell Ashby that the rocking chair had a deeper, symbolic 
relevance within the script, was upset that his work had been altered. 

According to a (questionable) account by Steve Roth, "Robert went 
ballistic. Psychotic. He thought he was the greatest thing since sliced 
bread. He was this raging egomaniac with a whole group of sycophants 
around him. He was envious of Hal being a big director, and he thought 
he did him this big favor in rewriting the movie. It was the ugliest fight I 
ever saw in my life. Hal was down on his luck at that point. . . . Towne 
was vicious. Said he was over-the-hill and gone. A cripple. 'I'm not gonna 

8 Million Ways to Die 


be fucked by this guy one more fucking time.' What was sad was these 
guys genuinely liked each other. They took an entire relationship and 
threw it away. I don't think they ever spoke again. 

Ashby, however, remembered Towne's reaction differently: "He said 
that he felt that a baseball bat was too lethal. I said, 'I'm sorry. Bob. I 
didn't have any choice.' . . . We certainly saw a lot of each other after 
that and he claimed he wasn't angry. I certainly didn't feel he was angry 
with me after that."^* 

Though Lance Hill did not come down to Los Angeles, both Oliver 
Stone and Lawrence Block did visit the set. Stone, who was unaware that 
while he'd been shooting Salvador his screenplay had been reworked by 
no less than three different writers, was very upset at what the film had 
become and felt that Ashby was solely to blame. "He gave it to Robert 
Towne behind my back," says Stone. "Robert later called me and was 
very nice about it, but it wasn't his fault. Hal wanted it totally changed. 
He was on a completely different wavelength than I was. I remember 
going over to their set in Malibu and seeing this L.A. crew driving up in 
Porsches, eating shrimp barbecue. It was just rich and decadent. They 
were way over budget. Hal and Jeff Bridges would sit in the trailers for 
hours and talk about the script. And Hal and the producers were fight- 
ing like dogs and cats. They were going to take the movie away from 
him. That's part of the reason I work in overdrive when I direct. I have 
this nightmare image of that set."^^ 

Block, who happened to be in Los Angeles for a wedding, stopped 
by the set with his wife, met Ashby and the actors, and left again two 
hours later. He was understandably disgruntled about the change of set- 
ting and, though he was impressed by the acting from both Bridges and 
Andy Garcia, later called the film "dopey."^* Elsewhere he went further, 
saying, "It was lousy. I can say that now, because the director is no 
longer in the building."^' 

While Ashby was oblivious to Stone and Block's visits, PSO staff 
were constantly interfering and made sure Ashby acknowledged their 
presence on set. Ashby's lawyers later stated: "Principal photography 
regularly was interrupted by visits to the set by PSOP [PSO Produc- 
tions] officers and employees. During these visits, which often occurred 
in the middle of the night, the cast and crew would stand by while PSOP 
employees yelled at Mr. Ashby regarding the budget or the number of 


Being Hal Ashby 

shooting days, demanded changes in the script, such as how to shoot the 
ending, or threatened Mr. Ashby with termination."'" 

Steve Burum recalls that on six or seven occasions, PSO employees 
appeared on set and took Ashby away to his trailer to have an "impor- 
tant private chat" with him.^^ "I had heard that the film was in terrible 
shape, but the only bad thing was them coming to the set and hover- 
ing with their bad vibes," says Rosanna Arquette. "They come on with 
doom and blackness and time and money and pressure."'^ PSO execs 
were regularly telling Ashby to speed up shooting, what he should and 
shouldn't shoot — which, in turn, slowed shooting down — all because 
of their inability to trust him. Although Ashby was not contractually 
obliged to do so, PSO forced him to sign a budget agreement and then 
withheld two weeks' pay because it had taken him two weeks to agree 
to sign it. 

Another point of contention was what would replace the costly 
"Rambo ending." Ashby conceived an ultrarealistic shoot-out between 
Angel and Scudder in an empty warehouse, a location Ashby had chosen 
because it offered no place to hide. Designed to be disarmingly un- 
controlled, the scene was sufficiently unconventional to prompt Mark 
Damon to suggest that Angel and Scudder instead have a fistfight on 
a balcony. Damon ultimately softened and let Ashby shoot his ending, 
on the understanding that he would film Damon's ending if PSO felt it 
necessary. Ashby had his actors improvise the scene, allowing it to play 
out naturalistically, but got only two takes in the can because Garcia lost 
his voice from all the shouting. The scene has since acquired a degree of 
infamy because its chaotic realism is so unexpected in a thriller, and it 
is apparently one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite action scenes. "I did 
not like the scene at the end where they're all screaming at each other, 
fighting," admits Alexandra Paul. "Now, I think it's great, but then I 
couldn't stand it because it looked to me like the chaos that was our set. 
My friend Eric Stolz says how much he loves that scene because it's so 
real, and it is so real because everybody's just yelling F-words."'' 

After giving his input on the warehouse scene, Damon said he would 
not be coming on set anymore, which was a relief to Ashby. However, 
a month later Chuck Mulvehill told Ashby that Damon was planning 
an impromptu set visit; Ashby threatened to walk if he showed up. "I 
liked Mr. Damon. I just didn't want to be hassled any more," Ashby 

8 Million Ways to Die 


said. "There were a lot of them. . . . Just enough hassles to make me 
not want to have any more. I felt they were imposing upon what I was 
doing in making the film."^"* It was all the more frustrating for Ashby 
because PSO was actually very pleased with the dailies — Mark Damon 
said he thought Jeff Bridges's performance was as good as Jon Voight's 
in Coming Home. 

Ashby felt he did not have creative control over the film and main- 
tained, "You can't make a movie unless you do. You can't direct it."^^ 
Creative control had become a major issue between Ashby and PSO, 
culminating in PSO execs demanding that Ashby run any script changes 
by them before scenes could be shot. Ashby had not been granted fi- 
nal cut (though PSO allowed him "full and meaningful consultation"); 
however, Steve Roth (who shared creative control with PSO) had ceded 
his creative rights to Ashby.^* The upshot of all this was, quite simply, 
confusion: both sides felt they lacked the necessary power, but PSO ex- 
ecs knew that they could fire Ashby if they wanted to, while Ashby was 
obviously in no position to replace PSO. 

Ashby was concerned about being sacked again and was concerned 
that PSO had failed to alter the mid- April delivery date when the film had 
to be ready for TriStar to release, despite principal photography starting 
late and the delays caused by script problems. There were further delays 
because of PSO's decision to make Villa Casablanca in Malibu one of 
the film's locations (apparently because it was owned by a friend of a 
senior PSO employee). The house, positioned high on a hill and with its 
own funicular, was visually compelling but unfortunately positioned, 
as the gunfight being staged there disturbed the affluent neighbors on 
either side. After complaints, the crew was restricted to shooting only 
about three hours a day, so what should have taken three or four days 
ended up taking twelve. 

It was now impossible for Ashby to complete a sixty-day shoot, so 
he signed an agreement saying he would finish the film in seventy days or 
less, though this was to prove equally impractical. Ashby was constantly 
under pressure, a direct result of there still not being a full screenplay. 
PSO's completion bond company wanted to see the script before footage 
was shot, but the reality was that Ashby could show only scraps and only 
once they had been written, which was usually moments before scenes 
were to be shot. He was under massive pressure, writing and directing 


Being Hal Ashby 

on set, and frustrated that he had no downtime to work alone on the 
script. He called Bob Jones, whom he had fallen out with over the edit- 
ing of Lookin' to Get Out, in the hope that he could come and work on 
the script based on Ashby's notes, but Jones was busy. 

Ashby's one saving grace was that, though he was significantly be- 
hind schedule, he was not over budget. When the film finally wrapped 
on November 26, after eighty-six shooting days, he had miraculously 
spent only about $11 million. (According to Andy Garcia, however, film- 
ing ended not because it was finished but because PSO pulled the plug, 
and there were still scenes that needed to be shot.) 

The day after production ended, Ashby received a letter from his 
first assistant director, Andy Stone, whose words revealed the impact 
Ashby had had on the people he had worked with on the film. "From the 
moment I arrived for my interview with you," Stone wrote, "to this last 
day, you've treated me with more courtesy, warmth, understanding and 
friendship than any other director for whom I have worked. You allowed 
me to do my job with total support and without censure or constraint. 
This breeds loyalty and support in return — not only me, but the entire 
crew would march into battle with you anytime. . . . Give 'em hell."^'' 

Though filming was over, the pressure was still very much on. PSO 
refused to raise the postproduction budget to help Ashby meet the deliv- 
ery date, and he was expected to have his first cut ready in only a month. 
After repeated bad experiences with young editors on recent films, Ashby 
hired Bob Lawrence, a friend since they were both junior editors on The 
Pride and the Passion, to edit 8 Million Ways to Die. Ashby had wanted 
Lawrence to cut The Landlord, but he had been busy on another film, 
and now, sixteen years later, they were finally working together again. 

When production ended, Ashby took a well-deserved break and 
handed the film over to Lawrence, who promised him an assemblage 
by Christmas. Ashby then turned his attention to The Hawkline Mon- 
ster. The novel's author, Richard Brautigan, had committed suicide in 
October 1984, and Brautigan's estate had extended Ashby's option by 
eighteen months to give him a chance to make the film. Mike Haller had 
always been lined up as the film's producer, but now Ashby seemed to 
be setting him up to direct it as he announced that Haller would take 
over from him if his schedule prevented him from taking on the film. (It 
appeared Ashby was hoping to re-create the situation in which Norman 

8 Million Ways to Die 


Jewison had elevated him to director, by setting up The Landlord for 
himself and then passing it on to Ashby.) Pacific Films, a New Zea- 
land production company, said it wanted to make Hawkline, then Jeff 
Bridges became interested in the lead and was trying to get his brother 
Beau involved also, and it briefly looked as if the film was really going 
to happen. But then the film's executive producer, Henry Honeckman, 
developed colon cancer, the New Zealand film industry hit a financial 
slump, and only half of the $8 million budget could be raised, and hopes 
of The Hawkline Monster being made vanished. 

As Lawrence began to piece together an assemblage of 8 Million 
Ways to Die, he wrote a sympathetic note to Ashby, saying: 

Dear Hal, 

I know how you felt after the end of shooting 

And I know who you felt like shooting 

But Amor Vincit Omnia, — at the end you shall triumph^* 

Ashby's triumph looked unlikely, however, as PSO blamed him for the 
film going over schedule and was incensed that he was not working with 
Lawrence on the assemblage. Ashby, who had never worked on an as- 
semblage with an editor before, refused to take PSO's phone calls to 
discuss the issue. PSO then wrote to Ashby, accusing him (in rhetoric 
Ashby knew indicated an imminent firing) of being "irresponsible" and 
"unprofessional." Stung, Ashby responded to the allegations in a letter 
to his lawyer, Michael Sherman: 

The only time I've been irresponsible and non-professional on 
this film was during that week prior to shooting. I went against 
all of my instincts, and professional experience, and allowed 
myself to be coerced by people who didn't have a qualm in the 
world when it came to renegotiating my contract after I'd al- 
ready been working for almost six (6) months on the film. 

At the time, I told myself it was the responsible thing to do. 
For me, the film, Jeff, Rosanna, PSO, and all the others who'd 
been working or waiting around for months. Well, it's turned 
out to be the worst move of my life, so far. 

I thought I would never cap the one of believing I was good 


Being Hal Ashby 

enough to make something out of the last movie. The big differ- 
ence on this one is not having to contend with Mr. Simon and 
cohort Mr. Stark. But the big mistake was in feeHng I should 
defer to Neil because of who he is! What he represents! It was 
stupid of me, and I call that irresponsible. 

On this one: There were always plenty of signs, but most of 
them had to do with how tough it was for PSO to put up with all 
of those normal decisions being made by me, or the production 
company, without getting the consent of PSO first. You know, 
things like casting, not Jeff and Rosanna, but all the other roles. 
What Cameraman I wanted, what composer. All those things 
that are obviously best selected by the person actually making 
the film. 

It was very upsetting to Ashby that although he had completed 

shooting the film within the 10 percent contingency, he was "being ma- 
ligned and treated [like] a no account, no talent, evil minded rat that has 
nothing in mind but the destruction of PSO." "I wonder sometimes if 
the actions and words from PSO aren't just some great need, urge, secret 
desire, to see if I will bend," he continued. "It seems to me, it would 
really be some kind of fool's game to put up all that money on the chance 
you could bend or change somebody whose [sic] come down the road as 
far as I have. I know there are better candidates out there for bending 
than me." Ashby was definitely not going to bend on helping with the as- 
semblage, and he pointedly stated that he "gave up work as an assistant 
editor quite some years ago."^' 

Berg, aware of Ashby's position, reminded an increasingly anxious 
and irritated Mark Damon that Ashby had no (contractual) obligation 
to speak to him until he had completed his first cut of the film. Allegedly, 
Berg added that if PSO execs really wanted to speak to Ashby, they 
should do so at a Directors Guild of America "hotline" meeting. PSO 
took this as an invitation to fire Ashby. 


The Last Movie 

The film was not going to be hnear in the way it was going 
to be cut. We tried to explain to PSO how they were going 
wrong with the editing, but they wouldn't listen. 
— Andy Garcia on 8 Million Ways to Die 

Hal shouldn't see the film; it would kill him. It's a horrible, 

horrible thing. 

— Rosanna Arquette 

On December 16, 1985, just twenty days after Ashby finished shooting 
8 Million Ways to Die, a five-ton truck arrived at the cutting rooms 
where Bob Lawrence was working. Producers Sales Organization (PSO) 
representatives confiscated the footage and refused Ashby and Lawrence 
access to the film. "PSO's attitude was 'Fuck him, he's going to take the 
film to Malibu and cut it as some unreleasable art film,'" says Chuck 

The following day, Ashby received a letter from PSO saying his un- 
communicative behavior was being interpreted as an indication that he 
had resigned from the film — but that if he had not, he would be fired. 
There has never been a clear explanation given for why Ashby was fired. 
Mark Damon said later, "I think I'm a total professional, and what 
was done was done with the best interests of everybody. Our firing Hal 
wasn't because we disagreed with or distrusted Hal's creative vision of 
the film. It was a business decision."^ 

After all the tussles and Machiavellian machinations so far, Ashby 
didn't regard his firing as by any means final — it simply seemed like 
more of the same from PSO. His contract gave him complete control over 
postproduction, PSO had influence only after he'd completed three cuts 
of the film, and anyway SFR, not PSO, was Ashby's employer, so PSO 



Being Hal Ashby 

was in no position to sack him. Two days after his "firing," Ashby wrote 
a patient letter to Mark Damon in which he pledged to do "everything 
possible" to have the film ready for the April release date: "Now, Mark, I 
would really appreciate it, if you and the rest of your people over at PSO 
would please, at long last, give me a break, and quit telling me how to do 
my job. I really do know more about making movies than anybody and 
everybody at PSO, and I'm getting a little sick and tired of being called 
irresponsible just because I went ahead and made a film from no script. 
Please don't say you ever handed me a script that you thought should be 
shot. There were three (3) scripts that nobody — nobody wanted shot. So, 
what's so irresponsible on my part[?]"^ 

Meanwhile, Ashby's lawyers told PSO that it didn't legally have the 
right to fire Ashby; PSO's response was to force Steve Roth to fire him. 
The cast and crew were dismayed and distraught when they heard. "PSO 
thought they could edit the film better than Hal Ashby," says Rosanna 
Arquette. "What kind of mind thinks that way? Who do they think they 
are? Confiscating that film was the lowest thing anyone could do." Jeff 
Bridges said that Ashby's firing made him feel "ripped around. In the 
first place, I did the picture to work with Hal. To have it pulled away at 
the stage where all his expertise lies — which is in the editing — made no 
sense to me whatsoever.'"* 

Work recommenced on the film in the new year, when Lawrence 
was given the few remaining days he needed to complete his assemblage. 
He only returned in the hope that he could convince PSO to bring Ashby 
back. Instead, however, the company brought in a new editor, Stuart 
Pappe, and encouraged Lawrence to work alongside him. Lawrence, 
however, remained loyal to Ashby and quit the film in protest. 

Now it was clear that his firing was permanent, Ashby went to the 
Los Angeles Superior Court, backed by the Directors Guild of America 
(DGA), claiming that both his contract and the DGA's code had been 
violated when he was fired. He sued PSO for the money he had posted, 
$10 million for damage done to his reputation and loss of possible future 
business opportunities, and $50 million in punitive damages. The judge 
remanded the case to the DGA, deeming that it had jurisdiction over 
the dispute: Ashby produced documents to back up his case, but PSO 
claimed it needed time to produce the paperwork. PSO's stalling appears 
simply to have been intended to prevent Ashby from being reinstated on 

The Last Movie 


the film. But not even Ashby was hoping for that outcome, saying he 
probably would have "end[edj up having to hand the film over unfin- 
ished. It would have been too frustrating. And there would have been 
nothing to stop them releasing their version in the meantime."^ 

On January 21, 1986, Ashby began a three-day testimony at a depo- 
sition hearing in the case of Ashby vs. PSO, during which PSO's lawyers 
tried to prove that he was irresponsible and a drug addict. Ashby ex- 
plained why he was suing PSO, saying, "I got into directing after being 
an editor. I have always been known as a very, very good editor. I was 
an Academy award-winning editor. I believe . . . when the picture was 
pulled away from me, I wasn't doing anything wrong, and I believe that 
that damages me. People don't know what goes on. All they know is that 
I am not editing the picture. It is a very, very small community and . . . 
that is why I believe I was damaged."* 

At the end of the three days, none of the dirt thrown at Ashby had 
stuck. He had answered the easy questions; the leading, argumentative, 
or difficult questions had been thrown out by his counsel; and his inter- 
rogation had turned up nothing new. The DGA arbitration panel gave 
Ashby and his company. Carbon State, damages of $550,000, which 
covered personal reputation, personal distress, and loss of business repu- 
tation. Ashby accepted the outcome, but his attitude surprised people. 

"They gave him some money, and he just said, 'Ah, fuck it,' and left," 
says Chuck Mulvehill. "He would never have done that in the '70s — it 
would have been a fight to the death." ^ Now, however, Ashby had little 
fight left and didn't want to put himself through any more unnecessary 
punishment. When Mulvehill asked him why he wasn't trying to get the 
film back, Ashby said, "What's the point in fighting it? I'm just going to 
sweat blood to do my version, and then they'll just recut it their way."* 

He was sad but ultimately philosophical about how things had 
ended up with PSO. "It's just a case of them not wanting me," he re- 
flected. "Maybe they thought I wouldn't get it finished on time. I'm not 
quite clear. ... I don't even know what the arguments were. The wire 
that I got said I was totally irresponsible and non-professional. I think 
they have to say that to fire you, but it's a little hard when you've been 
working so hard."' He confided to Mike Kaplan that he had shot a lot 
less footage than usual on 8 Million Ways to Die so that there weren't 
many editing options and "they couldn't fuck it up."^" However, PSO got 


Being Hal Ashby 

round this by doing reshoots. "That's when I got the feeling stuff was 
going wrong with the film," says Alexandra Paul." 

Ashby took consolation from the fact that despite any further dam- 
age his reputation may have sustained, he was still being considered to 
direct major film projects. In mid-February, Dustin Hoffman called to 
ask whether he would be interested in working with him on a film ver- 
sion of Elmore Leonard's novel La Brava, about an ex-secret service 
agent who becomes involved in blackmail. The project already had a 
long and checkered history: the list of people who had tried and failed 
to get the film made included actor Roy Scheider and directors Ted 
Kotcheff, Volker Schlondorff, and Martin Scorsese. The film's producer, 
Walter Mirisch, set up a deal with Cannon Films — a company run by 
Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus — which was best 
known for low-budget exploitation films but was looking to move up- 
market. Cannon was willing to pay the big money Hoffman wanted for 
the film, so a deal was brokered in late January 1986. Francis Ford Cop- 
pola dropped out of talks to direct at the same time as Ashby became 
available, and it initially seemed a perfect fit. 

La Brava was due to start filming in Miami in August, but Hoffman 
was unhappy with the script and had been working on his own version 
of it with regular writing partner, Murray Schisgal. Ashby, confident 
after the work he had done on 8 Million Ways to Die, had also started 
a draft of his own. He was excited about the film's possibilities, particu- 
larly the love story: Hoffman's protagonist falls for a fifty-something 
film star, who Ashby hoped would be played by one of the leading ladies 
of Hollywood's Golden Age, such as Debbie Reynolds, June Allyson, or 
Kathryn Grayson. 

Hoffman, however, was insecure about having a love interest so 
much older than he was, and until he had approved the script the deal 
hung in the balance. He had wanted to be a codirector with Ashby, 
which the DGA would not allow, but was happy for Ashby to be the 
sole director so long as he retained script approval and primary creative 
control. In early March, Ashby was publicly unveiled as the film's direc- 
tor; however, two weeks later, Hoffman quit the project. 

Hoffman claimed that Walter Mirisch had set up the Cannon deal 
"without telling anybody. I didn't back out — I flew out. I was frightened 
of Cannon. They could do anything, and would. '"^ Cannon had already 

The Last Movie 


run two adverts using Hoffman's name without his approval, but when it 
ran double-page ads in both Variety and the Hollywood Reporter with a 
huge picture of a smiling Hoffman next to the caption "Welcome to the 
Cannon Family," it was the last straw. Al Pacino was briefly interested 
in the project, but on April 22 Ashby, who had taken on the film only to 
finally work with Hoffman, also pulled out. 

Three days later, 8 Million Ways to Die was released. The film 
was now radically altered from Ashby's original conception as the new 
editor, Stuart Pappe, had had no contact with Ashby and acted under 
instruction from PSO. Ashby had ensured his name did not feature too 
prominently and, in order to reflect his diminished role in the film, had 
asked PSO not to put "A Hal Ashby Film" on any of the posters or 
promotional materials. Though Ashby was acknowledged by the Writers 
Guild of America as one of the contributors to the script (along with 
Oliver Stone, Lance Hill, Robert Towne, and Don Edmonds), the screen 
credit had been given to Stone and "David Lee Henry," Hill's screenwrit- 
ing nom de plume. 

Ashby was certain that 8 Million Ways to Die was far from the film 
he had set out to make as a "committee of editors . . . can't possibly think 
the same way [as I do]. They offered me the opportunity to see the film 
to see if I wanted 'a hal ashby film' on it — it was in my contract — but 
I couldn't look at it. I said it's obviously not 'a hal ashby film' unless 
/ make it. I ended up with a payment, but what does that do.' It doesn't 
give you your film."^^ 

On its release, the film received predominantly negative reviews, and 
many critics clearly wanted to like it more than they did. The Variety 
and Hollywood Reporter reviewers, who knew of Ashby's firing, both 
reflected on the film as a wasted opportunity to tackle alcoholism in a 
more meaningful way. Variety said, "What could have been a better film 
delving into complexities . . . instead ends up an oddly paced work that is 
sometimes a thriller and sometimes a love story, succeeding at neither." 
The reviewer guessed that the film's "unevenness" was due to the fact 
that Ashby "wasn't privvy to what happened in the editing room."''* 
Though the Hollywood Reporter said the film was "an entertaining and 
hard-edged cinematic yarn," it stated it was still "only another hard- 
noir, coke ring tale. Handled harder, more honestly, the film could have 
really been something." 


Being Hal Ashby 

The Reporter review did, however, praise both Bridges and Arquette, 
though performances of the whole cast were dubbed "loud and aimless" 
by Walter Goodman in the New York Times. Goodman contended that 
Ashby seemed "to have been made desperate by the desultory and dis- 
jointed nature of the material. He has the characters constantly shoving 
and yelling insults at one another, fills the many interludes with head- 
ache-making music and winds things up with as clumsy a burst of bang- 
bang as you've ever seen."^'' A Pauline Kael review in the New Yorker 
blamed Ashby for every one of the film's shortcomings. Though Kael 
backhandedly complimented 8 Million Ways to Die by calling it "more 
enjoyable than the other pictures Ashby has made in the last half-dozen 
years," she said that viewers could not "always distinguish between 
what's intentional and what's unintentional. . . . You don't know what's 
going on, or if the director does either."^'' 

Almost everyone involved was deeply upset about the released ver- 
sion of the film, and an article in the LA Weekly entitled "How to Kill 
a Movie," by a friend of Ashby's, Michael Dare, gave the principals a 
forum to voice their grievances. Rosanna Arquette, derided for her act- 
ing, revealed that the inconsistency of her performance was due to poor 
editorial choices. "We'd purposely do takes where we'd overact, then 
calm down and do a take right after that was perfect," she explained. 
"[In the film] I go from a tough chick to suddenly I'm nice. It wasn't like 
that at all, and I'm getting attacked because they left all these scenes 
out. I was really proud of what I did in this movie. It was a completely 
different character from my others. But they made me look like a jerk, 
like I decided to play it that way, and I didn't. It was the most painful 
experience in the world to know that Hal didn't get to decide what takes 
to use."^** 

Speaking more than ten years later, Arquette showed her feelings 
were just as strong. "Hal was such a great guy," she told director Mike 
Figgis. "I felt like they killed him, I really did. Because he was so hurt, 
so angry. If you could have seen what Hal would have done, his cut and 
his music, it would have been a great movie. So that was kind of tragic. 
I was very bitter and angry in those days."^' 

Arquette said that she suspected PSO had hired Ashby only in order 
to lure big names like herself and Jeff Bridges to the film and admitted 
that she had done it only to work with Ashby. She did, however, de- 

The Last Movie 


scribe it as "one of my greatest experiences," a sentiment that Jeff Bridges 
echoed. "I had one of the most creative times working on this picture 
I've ever had," Bridges told Dare. "Hal gave us space to create, and it 
wasn't just jerking off — we came up with good stuff. Unfortunately, they 
cut against the way Hal shot and conceived the film. He's one of the best 
directors I've ever worked with. He's an artist, though his process may 
look strange to people who aren't artists. They shouldn't have hired Hal 
in the first place if they wanted some other kind of film. We were going 
out of our way not to make a shoot- 'em-up drug movie. "^^ 

Bridges maintained, "In the final film, they goosed up all the stuff we 
were trying to avoid. It was a case of fixing something that wasn't bro- 
ken. "^^ His sentiments are understandable, given the way Ashby's footage 
was used: often the last, rather than the best, take was used, so the film 
lacks a consistency of tone, and the performances oscillate wildly. Steve 
Burum maintains that Pappe and his editors "were cutting against the 
material and didn't understand Hal's intentions. There are a lot of things 
in that picture that are out of sequence, wrong-intentioned, all that."^- 

At the end of each shooting day, Ashby had asked his actors to 
improvise surreal sequences he saw as Scudder's alcoholic dreams and 
hallucinations, such as Bridges and Garcia on a pedestal and Garcia and 
Randy Brooks pouring champagne over Alexandra Paul while she was 
crying. They were abstract and needed to be handled carefully, but Andy 
Garcia recalls that after shooting a number of these scenes, Ashby excit- 
edly told him, "I've found my movie. "^^ None of these drunken montage 
sequences (which Burum remembers as quite brilliant) were used, but 
footage of Sunny's death from one of them was incorporated into the 
film as if it were a normal scene: it looked extremely out of place, as 
it was intentionally overdramatized and had been shot in a completely 
different style and palette. 

There were more major deviations from Ashby's vision as well. 
Voice-overs, which Ashby never used, featured heavily, and Jeff Bridges 
was made to rerecord two hundred lines of dialogue for postdubbing, 
meaning that, as Dare's article noted, "more than half of the audio ver- 
sion of [Bridges's] performance was directed by editor Stuart Pappe. "^"^ 
Additionally, PSO asked composer James Newton Howard to make his 
score sound like the music on the hit television show Miami Vice, then 
bizarrely used pieces of music meant for one sequence in others. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Defending himself against the suggestion that PSO had botched the 
film, Damon claimed, "Ashby doesn't shoot a lot of footage, and he 
very much edits in camera. Therefore, any editor coming on cannot, in 
my estimation, go very far afield from Ashby's intentions. "^^ Years after 
Ashby's death, he went further, blaming Ashby completely for the film's 
shortcomings, saying, "Ashby at that time, his mind was blown. He'd 
had too much coke. . . . It's a flawed picture with moments of brilliance. 
It was from a script by Oliver Stone and rewritten by Robert Towne, 
two of the best writers we had. Ashby threw the script out and had the 
writers improvise every day. It was mind boggling."^* 

Though much of the material in 8 Million Ways to Die is of a rela- 
tively high standard — good acting and high production values are to be 
found throughout — the film's major problem is that Ashby did not edit it. 
As Jeff Bridges says, "'the puddings' that had come out of Hal's 'oven'" 
before had shown how important his skills as an editor were, especially 
with his own directorial work, and PSO firing Ashby to ensure the film 
was ready for its delivery date was lunacy. While one can understand 
the studio's concern as a fledgling company that did not want to get a 
bad reputation, it failed to see the bigger picture and understand that had 
Ashby been allowed to cut the film, it would have been significantly better 
and therefore likely much more critically and financially successful. As it 
was, what Stuart Pappe cooked in his oven was a "pudding" in the most 
derogatory sense, one that took a pitiful $1.3 million at the box office. 

There are still some bona fide Ashby moments in among the mis- 
guided editorial choices that blight 8 Million Ways to Die. The scene 
where Scudder and Angel confront each other while eating snow cones 
and the warehouse face-off both have a compelling spontaneity, although 
one is left wondering how much better they might have been had Ashby's 
tight editing shaped them. The use of a beautiful Gaud! house, which 
Angel has just bought and rhapsodizes about, is also vintage Ashby, as is 
the moment in the opening scene where Scudder walks past a gravestone 
marked "Adelson," a sneaky dig at the Lorimar boss. And, like in so 
many Ashby films, the ending involves water: Scudder walks along the 
beach with his arm around Sarah, looking out at the Pacific Ocean as the 
camera dwells on the couple in long shot. Though Ashby's best-known 
movies all eschew (straightforward) happy endings, this rosy final image 
hinted at a new positivity in Ashby's perspective on life. 


Starting Over 

His childhood was no sweet treat. But he had a lot of joy in 
him, despite what had happened. I think he'd experienced so 
much as a kid, anything he was experiencing in Hollywood 
was just small potatoes. So he'd always be laughing, and he 
had that perspective about what was important. 
— Sean Penn 

Steve, Thanks for the letter. Hope you are having a good 

year. My hobby is making movies. 

— Hal Ashby (autograph inscription, 1987) 

Since the start of the 1980s, Ashby had had four films taken away from 
him in the editing room and then flop at the box office, had turbulent 
business relationships with Ray Stark and the Producers Sales Organiza- 
tion (PSO) and a nightmare partnership with Lorimar that descended 
into a prolonged legal battle, and seen his Utopian production company 
Northstar flounder and fail and his reputation in Hollywood change 
from that of a charmed maverick to an aging hippie burned out on 
drugs. Weary after this litany of negative experiences, the fifty-six-year- 
old Ashby now took time out to rethink his lifestyle and the way that 
he wanted to work. He broke his life down to its essentials, focused on 
what was important. He knew that he could not continue as before, so, 
as Bob Jones says, he "turned his life around."^ He stopped smoking 
dope, took greater care in his appearance, and took long walks along the 
beach at Malibu, almost immediately looking healthier for it. 

After the La Brava deal fell through, Ashby briefly developed the 
modern-day Western Road Show (a.k.a. Spangler) before a rights issue 
put it into turnaround. As he now wasn't committed to any project, 
Ashby decided to have a change of location and perspective and go to 



Being Hal Ashby 

New York, where he stayed for a month or so. He had an apartment 
on the sixtieth floor of a high-rise on the Upper East Side two blocks 
from Central Park, a place he would periodically escape to over the next 
couple of years. 

When Rudy Wurlitzer visited Ashby's apartment, he was struck by 

the fact that it had hardly any furniture, a manifestation of his spartan 
lifestyle. Ashby was a great admirer of Wurlitzer's wife's work as a pho- 
tographer and wanted one of her pictures on his wall but asked whether he 
could rent one. "I'm not buying at the moment," he explained. Wurlitzer 
noticed a fundamental change in Ashby's attitude to life, saying, "It was a 
very haunting moment when I realized he was facing something profound, 
and doing it in his own way, in the context of his own privacy."^ 

When he went to and from New York City, Ashby would drive cross- 
country in his red 1984 Chevrolet Corvette, often taking detours to visit 
friends on the way. Novelist Jim Harrison, a friend who regularly tried 
to provide Ashby with possible scripts they could collaborate on, recalls, 
"One summer morning in 1987 . . . Ashby stopped by the cabin. I could 
hear his Corvette thumping its bottom along my rumpled two-track for 
minutes before he drove into the clearing. He had called the tavern the 
night before saying that he was driving from New York to L.A. and 
would be in the area. This seemed to be a little odd because the cabin 
was about a thousand miles out of the way from a direct line between 
New York and Los Angeles." Harrison writes, "We spent several hours 
pleasantly talking and he said he understood why I loved the cabin."^ 

Wurlitzer says he thinks Ashby "was communing with himself by be- 
ing on the road,'"* but he was also communing with America. Though he 
was often frustrated and upset by the state of his country, he embodied a 
quintessentially American rebelliousness and desire to better himself. "I 
hope every one of my movies tells something about America," he said in 
1976. "They're all made in America, by Americans, for Americans. I feel 
very strongly about this country."^ Talking about his love of America 
four years later, he said, "I didn't [previously] realize how fortunate I 
was as an individual that I was born in this country. . . . You don't get, 
I don't think, those kind of opportunities in most other places in the 
world. And certainly not in countries where there are hardships because 
there are too many people and not enough money. This is the Land of 
Plenty, even though we're a little tight now."* 

Starting Over 


Back in Los Angeles, Ashby made a conscious decision to shift his 
focus from directing and editing to writing and directing: he closed 
down his editing rooms in Malibu, sold the equipment to old apprentices 
or donated it to the UCLA Film Department, and took on a new creative 
partner. Rick Padilla had originally worked with Ashby as a consultant 
on 8 Million Ways to Die, helping him with high-tech tools for direct- 
ing, but now started helping him develop scripts. Padilla says Ashby was 
doing some of his best work in years, having finally found the confidence 
to become a full-fledged screenwriter rather than just a director. Padilla 
had a background in acting and writing as well as business, and his take 
on film was very close to Ashby's own. He was an ideal collaborator 
for Ashby and fondly remembers how they brought out the best in each 

"Even brilliant as he was, he was jumping plateaus, and he was 
growing," says Padilla. "He was always wanting to ask and probe and 
put his ego to one side. I've never seen someone work so hard, and it was 
magic every day. He was so focused. When you were working with him, 
you found yourself working in that way too. He had extreme clarity and 
was so humorous and so pleasant to be around. I would have stayed in 
that job forever because it just didn't get any better than that."^ 

Always reclusive, Ashby now distanced himself from the Hollywood 
system and worked only on carefully chosen projects, at the pace he 
wanted. He never forced ideas when they did not come freely. He and 
Padilla would take breaks and sit out on the sun deck, watching the 
dolphins playing only one hundred meters away in the ocean, waiting 
for inspiration. Rudy Wurlitzer describes collaborating with Ashby by 
saying, "It was like you were dreaming a project together, and it was a 
journey. But the studios took away the dream process."^ Ashby loved the 
dreaming and so took all the time he wanted creating films on paper, 
knowing that as soon as a studio became involved the perfection of what 
he had in his head would start to unravel. 

Adding to Ashby's sense of a fresh start was the fact that his legal 
battle with Lorimar had finally come to an end, with him receiving a 
settlement from his former employers. Though Ashby himself had footed 
the bill for the years of legal fees, he didn't keep the money he was given 
but instead donated it to a camp for children suffering from cancer and 
a charity that helped battered women. 


Being Hal Ashby 

Peter Bart, the former Lorimar Films president and Bob Evans's un- 
derling at the time of Harold and Maude, dined out with Ashby around 
the same time and recalls him being "both bitter and bemused by the ups 
and downs of his career." 

"Trying to deal with movies on an orderly basis is like trying to be 
rational about your love life," Ashby told him with a wry smile. "Reality 
keeps getting in the way. You start a project under the worst possible 
circumstances and the stars are fighting and you don't have the money to 
finish, and you end up with a smash. And then you get to do it the right 
way, and you end up in a mess. What the hell do you make of it?" 

"Not much," said Bart. 

"I mean, in the end, you look at the ledger and hope you have some- 
thing to show for all of it. I've managed to do all the things directors 
were supposed to do. I made some good pictures and I made some bad. 
I managed to make a lot of money and then lose all of it. I mean, that's 
the gig, right?"' 

Bart was struck by the fact that Ashby "didn't have anything to 
pitch, didn't ask my help on anything" and writes, "I never understood 
the scenario for that meeting."^" The reason Ashby did not try to set up 
a film with Bart was not, as Bart had suspected, because he was washed 
up or devoid of ideas but because he had become extremely careful about 
whom he chose to work with. Though he readily admitted that he could 
be difficult to deal with, he was honest and straightforward with every- 
body and expected the same in return. However, he had been shocked 
at the underhanded, cutthroat way Lorimar, Ray Stark, and PSO had 
done business and could no longer work with people who viewed him as 
another employee whom they could mistreat. Ashby decided from then 
on he would collaborate only with producers he knew and trusted. "On 
my last films, the producers turned out to be liars, and I'm never going 
to do that again," he told Padilla. "Whatever we're going to work on, 
it's going to be with producers that I know, and who I know their word 
means everything."'' 

When Ray Stark came to Ashby with the idea of directing Revenge, 
the Jim Harrison novel Orson Welles had been slated to direct at North- 
star, he turned him down without hesitation. (Ashby's decision was made 
easier because he had heard that Stark had previously engaged John 
Huston on the project but had inexplicably sacked him because his script 

Starting Over 


did not include any camera setups.) Similarly, Ashby spent only a brief 
time working for producer Elliott Kastner on a screen version of Noel 
Behn's quirky comic novel about the FBI, Seven Silent Men. Kastner had 
given him free rein to pick his leading man and approved Ashby 's choice, 
Timothy Hutton, but then backtracked when Al Pacino expressed an 
interest in the role. Ashby had already shaken hands with Hutton and 
would not be moved, so Kastner tried to get Padilla to change Ashby's 
mind for him. When this failed, Kastner asked Ashby to go to New York 
to speak to Pacino, but when Ashby told him all he would tell Pacino 
was that the part was already taken, it was agreed that it would be best if 
Ashby did not remain on the film. Ironically, just weeks after he had left 
the project, it came out that Kastner had not actually bought the rights 
to the book, and Noel Behn contacted Ashby saying he still wanted him 
to make the film. Ashby brought in Jerry Hellman as his new producer 
and settled down to write the screenplay himself. 

In his newly relaxed frame of mind, it was much easier for Ashby to 
be philosophical about life's hardships. When Robert Blake visited him 
at the Colony and was downcast about the difficulties in his own career, 
Ashby told him to appreciate how lucky he was. "You know, Bobby," he 
told Blake, "when we pass on, we can count our films. They will count 
their money." ^- 

Ashby had always tried to help aspiring directors climb up the Hol- 
lywood ladder, as Norman Jewison had done with him, and now once 
again acted as a mentor. Ashby had met John Teton in the late 1970s 
through their mutual friend Ken Kesey and in 1986 was asked to be a 
creative consultant on Lightning, a modern-day romantic drama about 
mining that Teton had cowritten with novelist Gurney Norman. Ashby 
was impressed by the script and did not hesitate to attach his name to 
the project, as he knew it would be a major help to Teton in trying to 
get funding. 

"Hal was supportive and gracious working with me on Lightning," 
says Teton. "His confidence that I could do a first-rate job directing the 
movie was a big morale-booster for me." Ashby also tried to get Teton 
an agent, put him in touch with Jerry Hellman, agreed to a more promi- 
nent role as executive producer (for which he deferred his salary), and 
encouraged Teton to send his script out and get actors to commit to the 
film. "All of the first seven well-known creative talents approached to 


Being Hal Ashby 

attach themselves to Lightning agreed to do so," Teton recalls, "includ- 
ing 3 others who, like Hal, were past Academy Award nominees — this 
despite the project coming to them from a newcomer intending to direct 
based hundreds of miles from LA without an agent. I was in for a rude 
awakening when, despite the bright showers of praise generated from the 
creative talent and occasional promising meetings, the many overtures 
to studios and prospective investors in those years turned up dry.'"' 

Ashby was also a mentor to Padilla, whom he thought had great 
promise as a director, and tried to pass as much expertise as he could on 
to him. Padilla cherished his working relationship with Ashby and was 
very appreciative of the education he was receiving. "You shouldn't be 
paying me, I should be the one paying to work with you," he would say 
to Ashby. Padilla says Ashby had two criteria for the projects they were 
working on: "Firstly, do something that no one else had done before. 
And secondly, create something that has entertainment as a base but has 
something to say."" 

One of these projects was The Ditto List, based on the 1985 book 
of the same name by Stephen Greenleaf that Dustin Hoffman had told 
Ashby about when it was still in galleys. The novel was about D. T. Jones, 
a self-employed divorce lawyer (the titular "ditto list" is his secretary's 
term for the divorce court calendar) who dedicates his life to helping the 
women he represents. The story particularly appealed to Ashby because 
of the complexities of the protagonist, who is himself divorced and has 
self-destructive tendencies. Jones was a perfect Ashbyesque hero whom 
Hoffman seemed well suited to play, and the actor now asked Ashby 
to adapt Greenleaf's book for his company. Punch Productions. In just 
eight frenzied days, Ashby wrote a script that, far from being rushed 
and substandard, was described by Lynn Stalmaster, Ashby's casting 
director since the 1960s, as the best he had read in twenty years. 

Joe Kanter, the chairman of the Bank of Florida and president of the 
Kanter Company, which had produced the Jack Nicholson-Meryl Streep 
film Ironweed (1987), knew Ashby and, according to John Mandel, was 
"enthralled" and "bowled over by him."^^ There was some discussion of 
a film loosely based on Kanter's life, but Kanter and Ashby were more 
excited by the prospect of bringing Wonderland Avenue, an as-yet- 
unpublished memoir by Danny Sugerman, to the screen. Sugerman had 
grown up as a fan of the Doors and by the age of thirteen was handling 

Starting Over 


their fan mail, but his association with the band, and particularly with 
its iconic frontman, Jim Morrison, had led him to becoming a heroin ad- 
dict on the brink of madness. Written with verve and humor, Sugerman's 
account of the Los Angeles rock-and-roll scene in the 1960s and 1970s 
was a compelling read and particularly interesting to Ashby, as he had 
lived among its principal players. 

To support himself while developing these projects, Ashby also took 
a couple of short-term, high-paying directing jobs. In the fall of 1987, 
he was hired to direct the pilot episode of Beverly Hills Buntz, a spin- 
off from the hugely successful cop show Hill Street Blues. In the final 
episode of Blues, gruff, no-nonsense cop Norman Buntz (Dennis Franz) 
punched out the police chief and turned in his gun and badge; in the new 
series, the show's creators, Jeffrey Lewis and David Milch, dispensed 
with gritty realism as they transported Buntz to the affluent streets of 
Beverly Hills, where he becomes a private detective. Partnering Buntz 
with a colorful sidekick, Sid "the Snitch" Thurston (Peter Jurasik), who 
goes west with him, the show's main focus was not private investigator 
plots but comedy derived from Buntz's inability to adapt to Los Angeles 
life and Thurston's underhanded ways of making a buck. 

Ashby was engaged not to shoot but to reshoot the pilot. According 
to an article by Jeff Jarvis in People Weekly, the producers had decided 
the look of the original version was too dark, and NBC executives felt 
it "needed a clearer beginning and a neater ending." It was also three 
and a half minutes too long, so the pilot was ditched, two roles were re- 
cast, and Ashby was brought in to fix things. The version that aired was 
deemed by Jarvis to be "the production-line model without the subtlety, 
fine shadings, grace and unpredictability of the original," a surprising 
statement given that these are exactly the qualities one would expect 
Ashby to bring to the proceedings.^* The episode contains moments of 
sharp dialogue and moderately funny broad comedy, but though Ashby 
elicited spirited performances from Franz and Jurasik (who had been 
playing the characters on Blues for years), his fingerprints are barely 
discernible on the episode. The flashy television editing (in which Ashby 
was not involved) further accentuates the difference between this and 
his other work. 

Variety's review said the Beverly Hills Buntz pilot was "not a 
smash, but does look like it will work as a regular series." The Hoi- 


Being Hal Ashby 

lywood Reporter's Richard Hack had high praise for Franz and Jurasik, 
saying, "The pair make classic comedy." Hack continued by praising a 
show "filled with gentle comedy and physical excesses, directed with 
refreshing aplomb by Hal Ashby. To watch Buntz describe a fellow 
cop-turned-private-eye as 'a mixture of goat puke and fruit' is to watch 
magic. "^^ Premiering on November 5, 1987, Beverly Hills Buntz was one 
of NBC's "designated hitters," an experimental ploy the channel used 
for its Thursday night prime slot — between Cheers and L.A. Law — to 
try out four different shows on a four-week rotation. Predictably, the 
system was a failure and proved the undoing of Buntz, as viewers who 
enjoyed the show had to wait a full month between episodes while the 
rest simply forgot it existed. 

In 1987 Ashby pledged to help casting director Don Phillips make a film 
based on the life of Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone, 
whose adventures in nineteenth-century Africa promised to be compel- 
ling viewing. Though there had previously been a film, Stanley and 
Livingstone (1939), starring Spencer Tracy and Cedric Hardwicke and 
Phillips had little more than a treatment, the project appealed to Ashby 
because Sean Penn was tentatively attached to play Livingstone. Penn had 
announced himself as one of the most rawly talented and exciting actors 
of his generation with performances opposite Timothy Hutton in John 
Schlesinger's The Falcon and the Snowman (1985) and in At Close Range 
(1986), directed by his best friend, former Ashby acolyte James Foley, but 
had been thrust into the public eye for different reasons after marrying 
pop superstar Madonna. Penn struggled with fame and served a month's 
jail sentence after two incidents of assault (against a paparazzi he caught 
in his hotel room and an extra who was taking photos of him) but also 
used his high profile to befriend his heroes, including legendary writer 
Charles Bukowski, Dennis Hopper, and a number of Ashby's own friends. 
Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Harry Dean Stanton. Penn listed The 
Last Detail as one of his favorite films and sought out Ashby, who hap- 
pened to be his neighbor in Malibu. The two quickly became close. 

"I first met Hal in the Colony with Tim Hutton," Penn remembers. 
"Later I got to know him much better — he started coming to my house 
in Malibu. We spent a lot of time together in the period that was my first 
marriage. When she [Madonna] was out of town, that house was Hal 

Starting Over 


and I, playing pool."" Ashby gave Penn comfort and company during 
1987 and 1988, a troubled period when Penn's marriage was on the 
rocks. It is a sign of how close their relationship became that Ashby, who 
rarely opened up about his past, talked to Penn about his early years in 
Ogden and his father's death. 

During more upbeat periods, Penn would visit Ashby, sometimes 
with Don Phillips or Adam Nelson, one of his actor friends. Penn later 
told how Ashby helped Nelson when Nelson's career was flagging and, 
in Penn's words, he was "in a desperate moment; somewhere between 
suicide and just running away from Los Angeles."^" Nelson had recently 
done a short film called Hotel November that Penn liked very much, so 
he invited Ashby over to watch it in an attempt to raise Nelson's spirits. 
Ashby was so impressed that he began talking about developing a film 
for both Nelson and Penn. 

"We went down to his house," Nelson recalls, "and what a sweet 
guy. Those are the kind of people that Sean gravitates to: very talented, 
maybe on the fringe a little bit sometimes, people who the business for- 
gets about." Nelson, who lived in Culver City, used to regularly pass by 
Ashby Avenue and would think about Hal whenever he saw the street 
sign. One day. Nelson mentioned the sign to Penn and said, "Hey, man, 
it'd be cool if we could hand it to Hal as a present. "^^ And thus was born 
the grandly titled "Operation Blue Board." 

To put the plan into action, Penn says, "Adam and I went over to 
a hardware store and got metal-clippers. Adam was the lookout, and I 
climbed the pole and snipped the sign. We wrote on the back of it. 'You 
Are Now In Possession Of Stolen Property.' And then, quite late at night, 
we called Hal and said we had a present for him. We put it in the trunk 
of the car, an early 80s or '79 model Caprice, and met Hal at the Malibu 
shopping center about two in the morning. The local police saw our two 
cars pull in together and wondered what the hell was going on. All we 
needed was them to ask us to open the trunk . . . but they recognized Hal 
as a long-term resident of the area and they took off. And we gave the 
sign to him right there. "^^ Penn's actions were all the more daring and 
meaningful because he was on parole at the time. 

In early 1988, Ashby accepted work directing another television pilot, 
this time for CBS, and in this instance he seems to have been genuinely 


Being Hal Ashby 

attracted to the project. The job would take him to England to direct the 
first episode of Jake's Journey, a series loosely based on Mark Twain's 
novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and developed by 
ex-Monty Python member Graham Chapman and his partner, David 
Sherlock. Chapman admitted that when he was first approached, he 
"wasn't particularly keen on writing any TV at that particular moment." 
But, he said, the prospect of shooting in England — and the money on 
offer — made him think, "Wait a minute. Eor twenty-three minutes of 
material, which won't get made anyway . . . why not?"^^ His pilot script 
introduces Jake Sibley — an American teenager from Dayton, Ohio, strug- 
gling to adapt to his new life after his father's business takes the whole 
family to London — who learns to tackle life head-on with the help of 
his mentor, the time-traveling knight Sir George. In the enjoyably silly 
plot, Jake suddenly finds himself back in Arthurian times, as Sir George's 
knave, and has to go to Castle Greed to woo the Princess Yeugh on behalf 
of Prince Kevin the Rich. There were obvious parallels with the Arthur- 
ian antics of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) as Chapman's 
script featured crones, a witch, a troll, an eccentric innkeeper, and a 
wonderfully ridiculous king and queen — not to mention two lobsters on 
a cycling holiday! 

The show was less a situation comedy than a fantasy comedy, or 
"fantacom," as Chapman called it, and was written with such warmth 
and humor that it's no surprise that Ashby signed on to direct. The six- 
teen-year-old Chris Young, who had appeared in the Max Headroom 
television series, played Jake and was surrounded by a raft of talented 
British comedy actors, including Rik Mayall, Griff Rhys Jones, Alexei 
Sayle, Liz Smith, and Celia Imrie. True to form. Chapman himself played 
the queen (who only ever says "Good evening"), while another behemoth 
of British comedy, Peter Cook, was perfectly cast as the stuffy king. 
Ashby went to London in February to audition actors with casting direc- 
tor Joyce Gallie, who describes him as "just divine, really lovely to work 
with."^"* After their casting sessions, the only major part that remained 
uncast was that of Sir George. At the last minute. Chapman decided to 
play the part himself, explaining, "I secretly cherished the notion of play- 
ing that role, but didn't want to because of several other considerations. 
... I quite enjoyed it, despite the fact it meant going back into armour, 
albeit even worse, because it was a full set of armour, and rusting."^^ 

Starting Over 


The pilot was shot in the second half of March at Shepperton Stu- 
dios, just outside London, with a substantial $1.2 million budget. The 
actors knew Ashby only through his films and were surprised when he 
was not, as they had expected, a director in the brash, loud Hollywood 
mold. "The thing I remember about him was that he was terribly softly 
spoken," says Celia Imrie. "I thought how interesting for a man of obvi- 
ous fame and power that you don't have to be screaming and shouting 
all over the place, which is of course what you're given to believe of 
American directors. My overall feeling was that I thought, 'If this is 
American directors, then what a thrill!' He was absolutely sweet and 
particularly kind and gentle with [Chris Young]. They had a very good 
relationship, and I thought how lucky he was to have such a man as his 

Young indeed relished his time on Jake's Journey and fondly recalls 
the experience of working with Ashby. "He was one of the very first 
people to acknowledge me on a professional level, even though I was a 
kid," Young says. "He made me part of the process and said he wanted 
me every night at dailies. I thought he was the coolest guy. He was re- 
served and in good spirits; he was smiling, cheery, and respectful. My 
image of him is standing around with a smile on his face. You had the 
sense that he was happy to be doing what he was doing, and he was the 
kindest, gentlest man he could be."-^ 

Young and Ashby were both put up in London's Athenaeum Hotel, 
and during their stay there, the young actor played a practical joke on his 
director: Young got hold of some police tape so that one day Ashby came 
back to find his room had been locked off as a crime scene. 

There was a general sense of fun on the set, and Young describes 
Ashby and Graham Chapman as "a good pairing. [I remember] Hal sit- 
ting back, amused by Graham's absurdity."^* As a result, they produced 
good work. Though the brief modern-day sequences are cliched and 
weak in comparison (the episode concludes with Jake conquering his 
fear and asking out the girl he likes and then punching the air in freeze 
frame), the rest of the pilot is marked by originality, humor, and vitality. 
The dialogue is excellent, the scenes between Cook and Chapman a true 
delight, and the burgeoning partnership between Chapman and Young, 
whom Chapman described as "very good indeed," promised much for 
the future.^' Unfortunately, CBS was put off by the wacky, surreal ele- 


Being Hal Ashby 

ments in the show, which it felt would alienate audiences, and decided 
not to commission more episodes. A few months later, a strike by the 
Writers Guild of America (of which Chapman was not a member) had 
CBS scrambling for shows, and five more episodes of Jake's Journey were 
written, although none were ever produced. In 1989, the Disney Channel 
picked up the pilot (which it showed occasionally) and hoped to commis- 
sion more episodes, but by this time Chapman was terminally ill. 

During Ashby's time in London, he received a call from Lester Per- 
sky, who five or six years earlier had given up trying to get Ashby to 
clear his schedule to direct Handcarved Coffins. Despite past problems 
with the screenplay, Persky had decided to have another go at bringing 
Capote's novella to the screen and found Ashby was both available and 
eager to be a part of the film. "Lester, I'll be coming back on Sunday," 
Ashby told Persky. "Is Wednesday too late for a meeting?" 

His enthusiasm for directing reignited by Beverly Hills Buntz and 
Jake's Journey, Ashby threw himself into preparing Handcarved Cof- 
fins for production. "His command of the medium, his understanding, 
was unabated," said Persky. "He was brilliant. He put together a script 
that I think really licked the problems we'd had in the past, and we were 
set to go ahead. "^^ 

In July, Ashby and Persky went to New Mexico to scout locations 
for the film. They were looking for a small, secluded Western town that 
would be a fitting atmospheric backdrop for Capote's (probably fabri- 
cated) tale of bizarre serial murders. Though the producer went back to 
Los Angeles after five days in the sweltering heat, Ashby stayed on alone. 
Soon after. Jack Nicholson signed on to play the lead, detective Jake 
Pepper, and filming was scheduled for summer 1989, after Nicholson 
had finished shooting Batman (1989) in England. 

Ashby's willingness to get back into directing a major film was due 
in no small part to the fact that Lester Persky was a producer he knew 
and trusted after working with him on The Last Detail and Shampoo. 
One of the few other producers whom he had stayed in contact with over 
the years was Jerry Hellman, with whom he had fostered a friendship 
during their battles to save Coming Home from the new regime at United 
Artists. The following year, Ashby gave Hellman a small part in Being 
There, and subsequently the two neighbors occasionally went round to 
each other's houses to complain about their respective woes. They were 

Starting Over 


now collaborating again, on the planned Seven Silent Men, and in late 
1987 Hellman proposed that they make a film of Thomas Berger's novel 
Vital Parts. Ashby had, in fact, been pitched that same idea back in 
1971, when Berger's ex-agent Joel Steinberger had unsuccessfully tried 
to get the film made with Walter Matthau. 

Ashby and Padilla wrote a draft of Vital Parts and then passed it on 
to Bob Jones for rewriting. The screenplay for Handcarved Coffins was 
ready to go, and in the gap before Ashby was to start shooting he met 
regularly with Hellman to discuss Vital Parts. Danny DeVito had agreed 
to play Carl Reinhart, the antihero in midlife crisis, and Gene Hackman 
the enigmatic figure from his past, Bob Sweet. Ashby was also trying to 
finally get Hawkline off the ground. He had Padilla put together a step 
outline and lined up Nicholson and Harry Dean Stanton to play the two 

The plan was to shoot Coffins in the summer, Vital Parts the fol- 
lowing winter or spring, and then do Hawkline. Ashby was very excited 
about the prospect of directing again — these were projects he had long 
been passionate about, and for the first time since 1980 he would be 
working with producers who would support rather than undermine his 
talents. "He was vital and active: he had a couple of other projects in 
development that I knew of, there was a constant parade of young film- 
makers to his house, he was always there for council and guidance and 
encouragement," Hellman recalls. "During all that time he was working 
at such a high level of creative energy and intelligence and craft."^^ 

One day, when Ashby was due at Hellman's house to discuss Vital Parts, 
he called and asked whether the meeting could be moved to his house. 
When Hellman arrived, Ashby had one leg propped up. He rolled up his 
sweatpants to show Hellman the leg, which was black and blue. "I don't 
know what it is," Ashby said, pointing at what appeared to be a badly 
discolored bruise. "It's traveling around. One day it's in my arm, the 
next it's in my leg, and then my back."^^ 

Rather than see a doctor, Ashby tried to ignore the problem, but 
soon after, he visited Warren Beatty and showed the bruise to him. Beatty 
frowned and said, "I don't like the way that looks. It looks to me like 

"What the hell is phlebitis?" said Ashby. 


Being Hal Ashby 

"You know, what Nixon had," Beatty replied. "Let me send you a 


Ashby, however, still stalled. "Hal's approach to medicine was op- 
posite to mine — he didn't have an approach," Beatty remembers. "Hal 
didn't want to go to a doctor when he first had these bumps on his 
legs — he didn't even have a doctor then."''' Ashby finally went to a doc- 
tor at UCLA who said it was a rash and that phlebitis never affected both 
legs, but Beatty was not satisfied and wanted a second opinion. When 
Beatty's father had been ill with cancer, he had been treated at Johns 
Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore (Ashby had gone with Beatty to see him), 
so Beatty called up the doctors at Johns Hopkins to ask for expert ad- 
vice on Ashby 's symptoms. He was told that they were consistent with 
migratory phlebitis, a condition in which a blood clot moves around the 
body through the bloodstream, a symptom of excessive blood clotting 
or cancer. 

Beatty called Ashby and insisted he immediately see a doctor, so 
Ashby took a break from working with Padilla to go for an appointment 
at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. He returned a few hours later, 
shaken and angry, with tears in his eyes. 

"Motherfucking doctors!" he said. 

"What is it!?" asked Padilla. 

"I'm a dead man," said Ashby. "They tell me I've got cancer of the 
pancreas and say I've only got months to live."'^ 


Do Not Go Gentle 

Grave men, near death, who see with bHnding sight 
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay. 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

And you, my father, there on the sad height. 
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

— Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" 


He found out that he had cancer. He knew he was going to die 
but he never complained. He had a smile for everyone. At the 
start he didn't want to take any drugs. But then he had to. 
— From Hal Ashby's script for Handcarved Coffins (1988) 

After hearing Ashby's prognosis, Beatty took him to Johns Hopkins for 
more tests, CAT scans, and pancreatic scans, which revealed that there 
were malignant tumors in his pancreas and the cancer had almost entirely 
consumed his liver. His doctors recommended an aggressive treatment 
beginning with surgery, but Ashby refused. "I think you should have 
the surgery," Beatty told him.^ Ashby could not be convinced, however, 
and returned home. Agreeing to surgery would have been admitting he 
might die, so as he had often done in his life, he chose denial instead. 

Back home, Ashby kept working and even tried to take over She's De 
Lovely, a script by his friend John Cassavetes that Sean Penn wanted to 
do. Penn had initially been set to make it, but when Cassavetes became 
terminally ill, he had to pass the project on. Not long after, it became 
clear that Ashby too was in no shape to consider taking on the film. (It 



Being Hal Ashby 

was later filmed, after significant changes, as the 1997 She's So Lovely, 
with Penn directed by Cassavetes's son, Nick.) Soon after his return, 
Ashby's blood clots made him suffer a stroke that caused hemisphere 
damage. "After that," says Padilla, "he wasn't the same. He didn't know 
what was going on; he was mentally different. He was like a five-year- 
old: if you'd asked him for a check for $10,000, he probably would have 
written you one."^ 

The ailing Ashby was being looked after by Lynn Griffis, a striking 
southern blonde known to everyone as Grif who had gotten to know 
him after writing him a fan letter, hoping he might cast her in one of his 
films. Though in his last years Ashby had enjoyed the company of many 
women without committing to, let alone living with, any of them, after 
his stroke Griffis appointed herself Ashby's live-in nurse and girlfriend 
and set out to heal him. Ashby was desperate to get better and hope- 
ful that he could be cured, and Griffis persuaded him to try New Age 
methods and alternative medicines. Though Ashby had been given three 
months to live, Griffis admits now that she was convinced they were 
going to beat the cancer through alternative therapies and that Ashby 
would then make a film letting the world know how he had miraculously 
cheated death. Ashby had money, so she brought healers from all over the 
world who laid hands on him, tried to draw out the tumors, "zapped" 
him. Nothing worked, however, and he became visibly more ill. 

As word got out, a stream of friends came to visit him at the Colony. 
"I set up a schedule with all the calls that started to come in from his 
friends who had heard about Hal's illness," Griffis says. "We set up 
every afternoon for people to come by and sit on the bed and be with 
Hal. . . . We always had no more people than could sit on the bed at one 
time. ... It actually was the bed from Being There, so it was a big bed 
and could hold a lot of friends at one time."^ Many of those who vis- 
ited Ashby pleaded with him to go back to Johns Hopkins, but Warren 
Beatty recalls, "It was about five or six weeks — I felt they were crucial 
weeks — before me and Jack [Nicholson] and Haskell finally talked him 
into going back and having the surgery.'"* 

Ashby made the decision suddenly one afternoon when Dustin Hoff- 
man was visiting him. "Dustin happened to be there and he planned right 
then and there to fly with us, and the three of us left and went to a private 
plane and went straight to Johns Hopkins," Griffis recalls. "I cannot say 

Do Not Go Gentle 


enough about Dustin for the way he just 'picked up' and changed his Ufe 
for that time and chose to be with Hal."^ 

Between them, Hoffman and Beatty managed to get the Warner 
Brothers jet to fly Ashby to Baltimore. "We drove in a limo to the air- 
port," Hoffman remembers. "Every few miles, he would throw up, black 
rivers of it."'' He was operated on at Johns Hopkins, where his spleen 
and parts of his liver and pancreas were taken out in an attempt to 
remove the tumors. However, the cancer had already spread too much 
for the surgery to have the positive effect doctors had hoped for, and 
Ashby regretted having been talked into it. He was in severe pain that 
even morphine could not dent and felt angry and humiliated by what 
the doctors had done to his body. Weak and now suffering from failing 
eyesight, he was desperate to escape from the hospital, where everything 
around him reminded him that he was a dying man. Still, he welcomed 
visits from his friends, and Quincy Jones, John Mandel, and Jon Voight 
chartered a plane to come out to see him. "He was still Hal, even when 
he was sick," remembers Dustin Hoffman, who stayed by Ashby for four 
days in the hospital.^ On one occasion, he weakly tried to climb out of 
bed and said to Hoffman, "Come on, let's go. They've got some great 
crabcakes round here!"^ 

Though he had retained some of his sense of humor, Ashby acknowl- 
edged now that he was facing his own mortality. He was not getting any 
better at Johns Hopkins, so a week after his surgery he walked out of the 
hospital and checked himself and Griffis into a hotel and found the next 
flight back to Los Angeles. If he were going to die, he wanted to do it at 
home, by the ocean, with his friends around him. 

The next day, they returned to Malibu, and Griffis set about making 
sure he had everything he needed. At first, he came downstairs in the 
morning and spent his days on the couch in the kitchen, looking out at 
the sea. His nephew, Guy, Jack's son, happened to be working nearby in 
Malibu and would come by sometimes and carry him up to the roof so 
he could have a bird's-eye view of his beloved ocean. As time went on, 
he got weaker and was able to move about much less, and in the final 
month of his life he rarely left his bedroom. He had a huge television and 
top-of-the-range hi-fi system set up there and would lie in bed watching 
movies and listening to music, often in the company of Al Schwartz. The 
writer of Lookin' to Get Out had not seen him since 1980, but when he 


Being Hal Ashby 

found out Ashby was ill, he called up the house immediately and asked 
whether he could come visit. The two spent the whole day together, and 
as the sun was setting Ashby said, "Can you come back?" 

"Sure," said Schwartz. "When?" 

"How about tomorrow?" 

After that, Schwartz came to see Ashby every day, spending up to 
twenty hours at a stretch looking after him alongside Griffis and a nurse 
who had quit his job at Johns Hopkins to work for Ashby. He was in- 
creasingly frail and needed help getting in and out of bed, going to the 
bathroom, and getting up and down the stairs, but much of the time 
Schwartz just sat with him, rubbing Ashby's body to alleviate some of 
the incredible pain he was suffering. "It made me feel good to take care 
of him, but it was a horrible thing to see someone dying," says Schwartz. 
"He never took any painkillers because he wanted to know how he felt. 
He couldn't stay in one spot for long, he was in so much pain. We were 
constantly moving him, rolling him, rubbing him."' 

Having his aching body rubbed was one of the few things that gave 
Ashby any comfort, and many of his friends participated in this ritual. 
"In life, Hal was a recluse," says Don Phillips. "But in death, he wanted 
everybody around him. And, any given night, you might see Jon Voight, 
Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLaine, Jane Fonda, Sean 
[Penn]. . . . Nobody in Hollywood would believe this, but they loved him 
and they were there to comfort him. Everybody would take a body part, 
his arms, his legs, six or seven or eight people rubbing him, caressing 
the skin, just to ease his terrible pain. And he loved having everybody 
around. That's not the way he was in life."^" 

Like Schwartz, Pablo Ferro came to see him every day, while other 
friends visited whenever they could: Bob Jones came several times a 
week, and Quincy Jones, whom Ashby had visited daily after Jones's 
brain surgery in 1974, was another regular visitor, often with Norman 
Jewison. Ashby was now almost blind, so Sean Penn would bring a book 
to read to him. When John Teton turned up to see Ashby, he found him 
in too much pain to be able to speak and recalls, "The way he apologized 
when he told me he couldn't talk now struck at the heart. Even in what 
was obviously a death's-door crisis, he took care to make sure I did not 
feel brushed-off."" 

When Bob Downey went to see him, Ashby had lost most of his sight 

Do Not Go Gentle 


but still recognized his old friend. "I'd know that voice anywhere," he 
told Downey. "Look, I'm really sick now, but I'm going to get better."'^ 
Despite his rapid and painful decline, he remained outwardly positive. 
"When something like this happens, you fight it," he told Lester Persky. 
"And then afterwards, I guess you have to be philosophical about it."^^ 

Despite his condition, Ashby continued to think about work and 
had recently talked with Ian Bernard about a screenplay Bernard had 
written that Ashby promised to try to set up for him with Persky or 
Jerry Hellman. Hellman himself later said, "Hal's spirit was intact, and 
in lucid moments right up, literally, until he died, Hal was talking with 
passion about Hal Ashby films that he hoped to make. And I'm sorry 
that he won't get to make them. We're all a lot poorer for it."" 

Hellman recalls that Ashby's eccentric humor was undimmed by 
his illness, citing an incident when he was sitting by his bedside and 
Ashby suddenly began to sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." When 
Bob Downey brought Bruce Dern to see him, the actor was shocked by 
just how ill Ashby looked but was heartened that "the first thing he'd 
say [was], 'Dernsie, tell me something funny.' He was trying to hold on 
to that joy he always had."^^ 

Ashby's friends also did their best to keep him in good spirits. One 
time, Jon Voight tried to cheer him up by saying, "Let's call Haller and 
make him laugh." "Oh, Jon, I can't," Ashby replied weakly. Still, he 
raised himself up and called Mike Haller. "He would be in such pain, 
and cranky," says Voight, "but he would get on the phone and leave 
these messages, and I so wish I had these messages because they would 
make you laugh. Here's a guy that's facing death, and he's making you 
laugh about it."^* 

Ashby, however, was also prone to sporadic angry outbursts, vent- 
ing the emotions that he had bottled up not just during his illness but 
throughout his life. He was still deeply troubled by the events of his 
Ogden years but had never been able to resolve his feelings about them 
because of his reluctance and, ultimately, his inability to tackle them 
head-on and deal with the pain. Just before he was diagnosed, Ashby 
was helping Padilla through a tough divorce and showed great sympathy 
toward him and his three-and-a-half-year-old son, of whom Ashby was 
extremely fond. "I was having a really hard time because of my son and 
the effect that it was having on him," Padilla says, "and one day Hal 


Being Hal Ashby 

showed up, and he had . . . this poetry from the New York Times. If 
I remember correctly, it was some young Russian girl who was ten or 
twelve years old and had written this incredible poetry. And he read it 
to me, and he wept; he was crying. It was basically about the fact that 
when you are cruel and say cruel words as an adult to a child, that it was 
like arrows that pierce your heart. He was weeping, and I was crying too 
because of how I was feeling about my kid, and we both sat there, and 
we wept. I really felt that he was talking about himself."'^ 

Jon Voight, who knew about the shadow that Ashby's father's death 
had cast over his life, did his best to help Ashby forgive him before he him- 
self died. "I tried to bring up his dad so he wouldn't have to go through 
all of this," Voight recalls. "I said, 'Think of all he went through, the 
pain he was in.' I tried to be a little bit of a healer. But he couldn't do it; 
he couldn't go to that point." 

Norman Jewison, whose mother had died of pancreatic cancer, tried 
to comfort Ashby but says that his emotion on facing death was "total 

"Fuck, man, why is it happening to me.'" he asked Jewison. 
"Hey, man," his old mentor said. "It's a common end we all 

"You don't share my fucking death!" Ashby replied angrily." 

Knowing that his fight with cancer was a losing battle, Ashby would 
vent his anger on those around him and lash out at people. When Chuck 
Mulvehill came to see him, hoping to resolve their conflicted friendship, 
he found that Ashby's turbulent emotional state made this impossible. 
When Ashby found out that Mulvehill's wife, Shari, was there, he started 
to cry. He had introduced Shari to Mulvehill back at the time of Harold 
and Maude and was the best man at their wedding, which was held 
at Ashby's house up on Appian Way, but he had not seen her in years. 
Mulvehill remembers an attempt to break the tension of the moment: 
"Somebody made a joke, and we all laughed, and then Hal turned on 
everybody, I mean, it was vicious. . . . Everybody was on eggshells."^" 

When he wasn't so angry, Ashby faced his death with surprising 
clarity. He discussed his will — in which Grif fis and his brother Jack were 
the two principal beneficiaries — and spoke to his sister, Ardith, for one 
last time on the phone. "He couldn't talk to me very long because he 
was very sick," she reflected sadly afterward. Even though Jack and 

Do Not Go Gentle 


Beth had moved there almost twenty years earlier, Hal had never visited 
them at their home in Fresno, California, but he now planned to spend 
Thanksgiving with them, knowing it would be his last. Sadly, however, 
with his frail condition and all the tubes that he was hooked up to, it 
proved impossible. Instead, he spent Thanksgiving at home: Jon Voight 
brought the turkey, and Voight, Al Schwartz, and Ashby ate perched on 
Hal's bed. 

As the end neared, he also made sure that his friends would be looked 
after. One of the reasons he had been so keen to get The Hawkline Mon- 
ster made was because it was Michael Haller who first brought it to him; 
Ashby felt guilty that he had never managed to make the film and that 
he had not been able to help Haller become a director as he felt he would 
have excelled in the role. "When Hal was dying and Michael came to see 
him, they held each other's hands," says Al Schwartz. "And these were 
not emotional guys. Hal said, T never gave you what you deserved on 
these films, and I should have brought you further.' It brought a tear to 
my eye. 

Haller's cinematic sensibilities were strikingly similar to Ashby's, 
and he was part of the filmmaking family Ashby hoped would keep 
the spirit of his work alive after he was gone. In his last days, Ashby 
told Don Phillips, "Next movie you make, the first person you hire is 
Michael, because he is the artist who has the keys to the black box."^^ 
Phillips was as good as his word and hired Haller for The Indian Run- 
ner (1991), Sean Penn's directorial debut, which led to Penn establishing 
a close professional and personal relationship with Haller. Ashby also 
looked to his "brother" Quincy Jones, with whom he had wanted to 
direct a miniseries based on The Manchild in the Promised Land (1964), 
Claude Brown's seminal novel about growing up in Harlem in the 1940s 
and 1950s. He constantly encouraged him right until the end to become 
a director and even left him his viewfinder and director's chair. 

Just over a week before he died, Ashby called up Jeff Berg and made 
him promise he would get work for Rick Padilla after he died as he 
was going to be a great director. Ashby once confided to his nurse that 
Padilla was the only person to share his view of cinema and he wanted 
to pass on the baton to him after he was gone. "Never sell out," Ashby 
begged Padilla.^'* 

One day in mid-December, as winds whistled round the house, rat- 


Being Hal Ashby 

tling the shutters, Ashby turned to Jeff Berg, who was sitting by his 
bedside, and quietly said, "Well, they're here." 
"Who's here?" asked Berg, confused. 

"Them. Can't you hear them?" said Ashby. "The people who are 
taking me away."^^ 

A few days before Christmas, Bud Cort came to see Ashby and brought 
a priest with him, in the hope that he might help Ashby find peace. "Hal," 
the priest said, "you have to let go." Ashby nodded quietly in agreement. 
"After that, he went downhill," says Al Schwartz.^* 

Ashby now slipped in and out of consciousness, struggled to breathe 
properly, and was bloated and jaundiced because his liver had ceased to 
function. In a moment of delirium, he told Bob Jones, "They're calling 
me across the river — don't let them take me."^^ 

"I've never seen anyone more afraid of facing death," recalled Jerry 
Hellman. "Most of the time he was frightened and didn't want to sleep. 
He would lie down and then sit bolt upright."^'* Ashby knew that the 
next time he fell asleep might well be the last and, despite his exhaus- 
tion, would sleep only for five minutes at a time. On Christmas Eve, 
Ashby's ex-wife Joan Marshall relieved Griffis from her vigil so that she 
could get some well-earned rest. As she sat by his side, he drifted off and 
at last slept peacefully. 

When Bob Downey came to the house on Boxing Day, he asked the 
nurse who was watching over the now comatose Ashby, "Does he have 
a chance?" 

"Look at him," she said, "he's turning yellow. He won't be here 

Burt Young, Jon Voight's costar in Lookin' to Get Out, had visited 
Ashby and was distressed to see him so sick and so afraid of dying. But 
on the morning of December 27, he dreamed he was doing another film 
with Ashby, who was now healthy and with a trimmed beard. When he 
awoke, Young discovered that Ashby had passed on. 

For years, Ashby had dreamed of making films outside the studio system, 
finding a way to act independently of the studios, and had even talked 
about buying a piece of land away from everything and setting up a film 
commune. In 1980, he had told an interviewer about his desire to set 
up a foundation to help young directors make their first film: "Instead 

Do Not Go Gentle 


of trying to raise a family, I would rather, as I go along, get more into 
young people and be helpful to them in whatever way I can. What I want 
to do is set up a foundation. I want to do something with my money that 
helps people. . . . [The foundation] would take young people and hire 
them to write screenplays, then try and follow through to the end result 
of becoming a film. And if there's a profit, it goes right back in, so the 
foundation perpetuates itself. I want to set it up where the people will run 
it themselves. ... I want to see the money being used that way. I think it's 
of real value to do that; it's a chance to use what you've got."^" 

Though he had never set up the foundation, in the days after Ashby's 
death people were asked to make a donation to the Hal Ashby Film 
Scholarship Fund rather than sending flowers. There was no funeral, but 
Bud Cort, Pablo Ferro, Mike Haller, and Jeff Wexler organized a memo- 
rial service at the Directors Guild building three days after Ashby's death 
in order to, as Cort put it, "raise the industry's consciousness of his gifts 
to film."^^ Ferro cut together clips from Ashby's films, and proceedings 
began with a montage of Ashby's cameos. Though he was gone, he was 
up there on the screen, a director who had always avoided the limelight 
now the center of attention. Jeff Bridges was the master of ceremonies 
and moved through Ashby's career in chronological order, introducing 
clips from The Landlord through to 8 Million Ways to Die. After each 
clip, an actor from the film shared memories of Ashby. At the base of the 
lectern was the "Ashby" street sign Sean Penn had stolen; behind it was 
a huge picture of Ashby smiling, his grin extending almost from one side 
of the stage to the other. 

In his final days, Ashby had told Griffis, "I want you to think of me 
as being alive. Don't refer to me in the past when I'm gone."'^ And it 
was as if he were still there, as one after another the speakers who came 
onstage turned to the picture of Ashby behind them, larger than life, and 
started talking to him. Speaking first, Beau Bridges affectionately noted 
that Ashby "never liked big social events. I think if he was here, then he 
probably would have stayed home. But if he was here, he'd be sitting in 
the back row there with some friend, giggling over some pompous remark 
that someone had made, which he'd share with them later on. And then 
when the lights came on after the show, and you'd look for him back there, 
he'd be gone. He always left early."^^ 

Following him, Bud Cort had everyone laughing after he announced 


Being Hal Ashby 

matter-of-factly, "I was Hal's favorite." The whole event was a celebra- 
tion, sad and reverential, but nevertheless joyful, as a string of actors, 
producers, colleagues, and friends spoke of their love for Ashby and the 
impact he'd had on their lives. His sense of humor and love of life were 
much commented on, and a number of jokes were made about his legend- 
ary reluctance to pick up the phone. A message sent by Tom Skerritt 
ended: "I will miss you, and I will understand why you don't return my 

Lynn Stalmaster, Ashby's casting director, who spoke after the star- 
rier names had said their piece, aptly described the memorial as "a living 
monument of friends. Those who could not be there, such as Quincy 
Jones and Jack Nicholson, sent written tributes, and messages were also 
read out from John Cassavetes, Michael Cimino, and Martin Scorsese. 
People were crying throughout, but perhaps the most poignant and mov- 
ing moment came when Ronny Cox and Melinda Dillon did a duet of 
Ashby's favorite song from Bound for Glory, "Hobo's Lullabye." As 
they sang. Cox and Dillon struggled to hold back the tears; by the end of 
the song, everyone was crying. 

There was one person present who felt the emotions of the occasion 
with a unique poignancy, and that was Leigh, Ashby's daughter. Over 
the years, her various attempts to contact her father had been unsuccess- 
ful, despite the efforts of people close to him to get him to acknowledge 
her, and she was at the memorial service only because Jack and Beth had 
brought her as a guest. She had never known the man whose memory 
was being honored that day, and when she introduced herself to fel- 
low mourners afterward, they were shocked to learn that Ashby had a 

A few months later, a group of friends, including Jeff Wexler, Jeff Bridg- 
es, and Jerry Hellman, took Hal Ashby's ashes out on a boat off Malibu 
to scatter them on the ocean as he had requested. It was a calm day, but 

as they scattered the ashes, suddenly a wind came and blew Ashby's 
remains back toward them, covering the friends who had gathered to 
say their final farewell. 


The Naked Hills (1956) 

La Salle Productions/Allied Artists Pictures 
Director: Josef Shaftel 

Producer: Josef Shaftel 

Writers: Helen S. Bilkie (story); Josef Shaftel (screenplay) 
Cinematographer: Frederick Gately 

Art Director: Rudi Feld 

Editors: Gene Fowler Jr.; Hal Ashby (assistant editor, uncredited) 

Cast: David Wayne (Tracy Powell), Keenan Wynn (Sam Wilkins), James Barton 

(Jimmo McCann), Marcia Henderson (Julie), Jim Backus (Willis Haver), 

Denver Pyle (Bert Killian/Narrator) 
Running Time: 72 minutes 
Release Date: June 17, 1956 

The Pride and the Passion (1957) 

Stanley Kramer Productions/United Artists 
Director: Stanley Kramer 
Producer: Stanley Kramer 

Writers: C. S. Forester (novel: The Gun); Edna Anhalt and Edward Anhalt 

(screen story and screenplay); Earl Felton (uncredited) 
Cinematographer: Franz Planer 
Production Designer: Rudolph Sternad 

Editors: Ellsworth Hoagland, Frederic Knudtson; Hal Ashby (assistant editor, 

Cast: Gary Grant (Anthony), Frank Sinatra (Miguel), Sophia Loren (Juana), 

Theodore Bikel (General Jouvet), John Wengraf (Sermaine) 
Running Time: 132 minutes 
Release Date: July 10, 1957 

The Big Country (1958) 

United Artists 
Director: William Wyler 

Producers: Gregory Peck, William Wyler; Robert Wyler (associate producer) 




Writers: Donald Hamilton (novel); Jessamyn West, Robert Wyler (adaptation); 

James R. Webb, Sy Bartlett, Robert Wilder (screenplay) 
Cinematographer: Franz Planer 
Art Director: Frank Hotaling 

Editors: Robert Belcher, John Faure, Robert Swink; Hal Ashby (assistant edi- 

Music: Jerome Moross 

Cast: Gregory Peck (James McKay), Jean Simmons (Julie Maragon), Carroll 
Baker (Patricia Terrill), Charlton Heston (Steve Leech), Burl Ives (Rufus Han- 
nassey), Charles Bickford (Major Henry Terrill), Alfonso Bedoya (Ramon 
Guiteras), Chuck Connors (Buck Hannassey) 

Running Time: 165 minutes 

Release Date: October 1, 1958 

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) 

George Stevens Productions/Twentieth Century-Fox 

Director: George Stevens 

Producers: George Stevens; George Stevens Jr. (associate producer) 

Writers: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett (screenplay adapted from their own 

play); Anne Frank (book: Anne Prank: The Diary of a Young Girl) 
Cinematographer: William C. Mellor 
Art Directors: George W. Davis, Lyie R. Wheeler 

Editors: David Bretherton, William Mace, Robert Swink; Hal Ashby (assistant 

Music: Alfred Newman 

Cast: Millie Perkins (Anne Frank), Joseph Schildkraut (Otto Frank), Shelley 
Winters (Mrs. Petronella Van Daan), Richard Beymer (Peter Van Daan), 
Gusti Huber (Mrs. Edith Frank), Lou Jacobi (Mr. Hans Van Daan) 

Running Time: 180 minutes 

Release Date: March 18, 1959 

The Young Doctors (1961) 

Millar/Turman Productions/United Artists 

Director: Phil Karlson 

Producers: Stuart Millar, Lawrence Turman 

Writers: Arthur Hailey (novel); Joseph Hayes (screenplay) 

Cinematographer: Arthur J. Ornitz 

Production Designer: Richard Sylbert 

Editor: Robert Swink; Hal Ashby (assistant editor) 

Music: Elmer Bernstein 

Cast: Fredric March (Dr. Joseph Pearson), Ben Gazzara (Dr. David Coleman), 
Dick Clark (Dr. Alexander), Ina Balin (Cathy Hunt), Eddie Albert (Dr. 

Charles Dornberger) 



Running Time: 100 minutes 
Release Date: August 23, 1961 

The Children's Hour (1961) 

The Mirisch Corporation/United Artists 
Director: William Wyler 

Producers: William Wyler; Robert Wyler (associate producer) 

Writers: Lillian Hellman (adapting from her own play), John Michael Hayes 

Cinematographer: Franz Planer 
Art Director: Fernando Carrere 
Editors: Robert Swink; Hal Ashby (assistant editor) 
Music: Alex North 

Cast: Audrey Hepburn (Karen Wright), Shirley MacLaine (Martha Dobie), 
James Garner (Dr. Joe Cardin), Miriam Hopkins (Mrs. Lily Mortar), Fay 
Bainter (Mrs. Amelia Tilford) 

Running Time: 107 minutes 

Release Date: December 19, 1961 

Captain Sindbad (1963) 

King Brothers Productions/MGM 
Director: Byron Haskin 
Producers: Frank King, Herman King 
Writers: Ian McLellan Hunter, Guy Endore 

Cinematographers: Giinther Senftleben, Eugen Schiifftan (uncredited) 
Art Directors: Isabella Schlichting, Werner Schlichting 
Editors: Robert Swink; Hal Ashby (assistant editor) 
Music: Michel Michelet 

Cast: Guy Williams (Captain Sindbad), Heidi Briihl (Princess Jana), Pedro Ar- 

mendariz (El Kerim), Abraham Sofaer (Galgo), Bernie Hamilton (Quinius) 
Running Time: 85 minutes 
Release Date: June 19, 1963 

The Best Man (1964) 

Millar/Turman Productions/United Artists 

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner 

Producers: Stuart Millar, Lawrence Turman 

Writer: Gore Vidal (from his own play) 

Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler 

Production Designer: Lyle R. Wheeler 

Editors: Robert Swink; Hal Ashby (editorial consultant) 

Music: Mort Lindsey 



Cast: Henry Fonda (William Russell), Cliff Robertson (Joe Cantwell), Edie Ad- 
ams (Mabel Cantwell), Margaret Leighton (Alice Russell), Shelley Berman 
(Sheldon Bascomb), Lee Tracy (President Art Hockstader), Ann Sothern (Sue 
Ellen Gamadge) 

Running Time: 102 minutes 

Release Date: April 5, 1964 

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) 
George Stevens Productions/United Artists 

Directors: George Stevens; David Lean, Jean Negulesco (uncredited) 
Producers: George Stevens; George Stevens Jr., Antonio Vellani (associate pro- 
ducers); Frank I. Davis (executive producer) 
Writers: Fulton Oursler (book); Henry Denker (source writings); James Lee Bar- 
rett (screenplay); George Stevens (screenplay); Carl Sandburg (uncredited) 
Cinematographers: Loyal Griggs, William C. Mellor 
Art Directors: William J. Creber, Richard Day, David S. Hall 
Editors: Harold F. Kress, Argyle Nelson Jr., J. Frank O'Neill; Hal Ashby (as- 
sistant editor) 

Music: Alfred Newman; Hugo Friedhofer, Fred Steiner (uncredited) 

Cast: Max von Sydow (Jesus), Dorothy McGuire (the Virgin Mary), Robert 
Loggia (Joseph), Charlton Heston (John the Baptist), Robert Blake (Simon 
the Zealot) 

Running Time: 225 minutes 

Release Date: February 15, 1965 

The Loved One (1965) 

MGM/Filmways Pictures 
Director: Tony Richardson 

Producers: John Galley, Haskell Wexler; Neil Hartley (associate producer) 
Writers: Evelyn Waugh (novel); Terry Southern, Christopher Isherwood (screen- 

Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler 

Production Designer: Rouben Ter-Arutunian 

Editors: Hal Ashby, Brian Smedley-Aston, Antony Gibbs 

Music: John Addison 

Cast: Robert Morse (Dennis Barlow), Jonathan Winters (Henry Glenworthy/the 
Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy), Anjanette Comer (Aimee Thanatogenous), 
Dana Andrews (General Buck Brinkman), Milton Berle (Mr. Kenton), James 
Coburn (Immigration Officer), John Gielgud (Sir Francis Hinsley), Tab 
Hunter (Whispering Glades Tour Guide), Margaret Leighton (Mrs. Helen 
Kenton), Liberace (Mr. Starker), Roddy McDowall (D. J. Jr.), Robert Morley 
(Sir Ambrose Ambercrombie) 

Running Time: 122 minutes 

Release Date: October 11, 1965 



The Cincinnati Kid (1965) 

MGM/Filmways Pictures 
Director: Norman Jewison 

Producers: Martin Ransohoff; John Galley (associate producer) 

Writers: Richard Jessup (novel); Ring Lardner Jr., Terry Southern (screenplay); 

Charles Eastman (uncredited) 
Cinematographer: Philip H. Lathrop 
Art Directors: Edward C. Carfagno, George W. Davis 
Editor: Hal Ashby 
Music: Lalo Schifrin 

Cast: Steve McQueen (the Cincinnati Kid), Edward G. Robinson (Lancey How- 
ard), Ann-Margret (Melba), Karl Maiden (Shooter), Tuesday Weld (Chris- 
tian), Joan Blondell (Lady Fingers), Rip Torn (Slade) 

Running Time: 102 minutes 

Release Date: October 15, 1965 

The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) 

The Mirisch Corporation/United Artists 
Director: Norman Jewison 
Producer: Norman Jewison 

Writers: Nathaniel Benchley (novel: The Off-Islanders); William Rose (screen- 

Cinematographer: Joseph F. Biroc 
Art Director: Robert F. Boyle 
Editors: Hal Ashby, J. Terry Williams 
Music: Johnny Mandel 

Cast: Carl Reiner (Wait Whittaker), Eva Marie Saint (Elspeth Whittaker), Alan 
Arkin (Lieutenant Rozanov), Brian Keith (Police Chief Link Mattocks), 
Jonathan Winters (Norman Jones), Paul Ford (Fendall Hawkins), Theodore 
Bikel (the Russian Captain), Tessie O'Shea (Alice Foss), John Phillip Law 
(Alexei Kolchin) 

Running Time: 126 minutes 

Release Date: May 25, 1966 

In the Heat of the Night (1967) 

The Mirisch Corporation/United Artists 
Director: Norman Jewison 

Producers: Walter Mirisch; Hal Ashby (assistant to producer) 
Writers: John Ball (novel); Stirling Silliphant (screenplay) 
Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler 
Art Director: Paul Groesse 
Editor: Hal Ashby 
Music: Quincy Jones 



Cast: Sidney Poitier (Detective Virgil Tibbs), Rod Steiger (Police Chief Bill Gil- 
lespie), Warren Oates (Officer Sam Wood), Lee Grant (Mrs. Leslie Colbert), 
Larry Gates (Eric Endicott), James Patterson (Purdy) 

Running Time: 109 minutes 

Release Date: August 2, 1967 

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) 

Simkoe/The Mirisch Corporation/United Artists 
Director: Norman Jewison 

Producers: Norman Jewison; Hal Ashby (associate producer) 
Writer: Alan Trustman 
Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler 
Art Director: Robert F. Boyle 

Editors: Hal Ashby, Byron "Buzz" Brandt, Ralph E. Winters 
Music: Michel Legrand 

Cast: Steve McQueen (Thomas Crown), Faye Dunaway (Vicki Anderson), Paul 

Burke (Eddy Malone), Jack Weston (Erwin), Biff McGuire (Sandy), Addison 
Powell (Abe), Astrid Heeren (Gwen), Gordon Pinsent (Jamie), Yaphet Kotto 

Running Time: 102 minutes 
Release Date: June 19, 1968 

Gaily, Gaily (1969) 

The Mirisch Corporation/United Artists 
Director: Norman Jewison 

Producers: Norman Jewison; Hal Ashby (associate producer) 
Writers: Ben Hecht (novel); Abram S. Ginnes (screenplay) 
Cinematographer: Richard H. Kline 
Production Designer: Robert F. Boyle 

Editors: Ralph E. Winters, Byron W. Brandt; Hal Ashby (editorial consultant, 

Music: Henry Mancini 

Cast: Beau Bridges (Ben Harvey), Melina Mercouri (Lil), Brian Keith (Sulli- 
van), George Kennedy (Johanson), Hume Cronyn (Grogan), Margot Kidder 
(Adeline), Roy Poole (Dunne), Wilfrid Hyde-White (the Governor), Melodic 
Johnson (Lilah), Hal Ashby (cameo) 

Running Time: 107 minutes 

Release Date: December 16, 1969 

The Landlord (1970) 

Cartier Productions/The Mirisch Corporation/MGM 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Norman Jewison; Patrick J. Palmer (associate producer) 



Writers: Kristin Hunter (novel); Bill Gunn (screenplay) 

Cinematographer: Gordon Willis 

Production Designer: Robert F. Boyle 

Editors: William A. Sawyer, Edward Warschilka 

Music: Al Kooper 

Cast: Beau Bridges (Elgar Winthrop Julius Enders), Lee Grant (Joyce Enders), 

Diana Sands (Francine "Fanny" Marie Johnson), Pearl Bailey (Marge), Wal- 
ter Brooke (William Enders Sr.), Louis Gossett Jr. (Copee Johnson), Marki 
Bey (Lanie), Hal Ashby (cameo), Douglas Grant (Walter Gee Copee) 

Running Time: 112 minutes 

Release Date: May 20, 1970 

Harold and Maude (1971) 

Paramount Pictures 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Charles B. Mulvehill, Colin Higgins; Mildred Lewis (executive pro- 
Writer: Colin Higgins 
Cinematographer: John Alonzo 
Production Designer: Michael Hallcr 
Editors: William A. Sawyer, Edward Warschilka 
Music: Cat Stevens 

Cast: Ruth Gordon (Maude), Bud Cort (Harold Parker Chasen), Vivian Pickles 
(Mrs. Chasen), Cyril Cusack (Glaucus), Charles Tyner (Brigadier General 
Victor Ball), Eric Christmas (Priest), G. Wood (Psychiatrist), Hal Ashby 

Running Time: 91 minutes 

Release Date: December 20, 1971 

The Last Detail (1973) 

Acrobat Productions/Bright-Persky Associates/Columbia Pictures 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Lester Persky, Gerald Ayres; Charles B. Mulvehill (associate pro- 

Writers: Daryl Ponicsan (novel); Robert Towne (screenplay) 
Cinematographer: Michael Chapman 
Production Designer: Michael Haller 
Editor: Robert C. Jones 
Music: Johnny Mandel 

Cast: Jack Nicholson (Seaman's Mate First Class Billy "Bad Ass" Buddusky), 
Otis Young (Gunner's Mate First Class "Mule" Mulhall), Randy Quaid (Sea- 
man Larry Meadows), Clifton James (Master at Arms), Carol Kane (Young 
Whore), Michael Moriarty (Marine Duty Officer), Hal Ashby (cameo) 



Running Time: 103 minutes 
Release Date: December 12, 1973 

Shampoo (1975) 

Rubeeker Films/Columbia Pictures 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Warren Beatty, Lester Persky; Charles H. Maguire (associate producer) 

Writers: Robert Towne, Warren Beatty 

Cinematographer: Laszlo Kovacs 

Production Designer: Richard Sylbert 

Editor: Robert C. Jones 

Music: Paul Simon 

Cast: Warren Beatty (George Roundy), Julie Christie (Jackie Shawn), Goldie 

Hawn (Jill), Lee Grant (Felicia Karpf ), Jack Warden (Lester Karpf ), Tony Bill 
(Johnny Pope), Hal Ashby (cameo, deleted), Carrie Fisher (Lorna Karpf) 

Running Time: 109 minutes 

Release Date: March 13, 1975 

Bound for Glory (1976) 

United Artists 

Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Robert F. Blumofe, Harold Leventhal, Jeffrey M. Sneller; Charles B. 

Mulvehill (associate producer) 
Writers: Woody Guthrie (book); Robert Getchell (screenplay) 
Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler 
Production Designer: Michael Haller 
Editors: Robert C. Jones, Pembroke J. Herring 
Music: Leonard Rosenman 

Cast: David Carradine (Woody Guthrie), Ronny Cox (Ozark Bule), Melinda 
Dillon (Mary/Memphis Sue), Gail Strickland (Pauline), John Lehne (Locke), 
Ji-Tu Cumbuka (Slim Snedeger), Randy Quaid (Luther Johnson) 

Running Time: 147 minutes 

Release Date: December 5, 1976 

The Stronger (1976) 

American Film Institute 

Director: Lee Grant 

Producers: Hal Ashby, Joseph Feury; Antonio Vellani (executive producer) 
Writers: August Strindberg (play); Lee Grant (adaptation) 

Cinematographer: Andrew Davis 

Cast: Edward Ashley, Katharine Bard, Anthony Costello, Dolores Dorn, Dinah 

Manoff, Hanns Manship, Susan Strasberg 
Running Time: 30 minutes (approx.) 



Coming Home (1978) 

Jerome Hellman Productions/Jayne Productions Inc./United Artists 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Jerome Hellman; Bruce Gilbert (associate producer) 

Writers: Nancy Dowd (story); Waldo Salt, Robert C. Jones; Rudy Wurlitzer 

Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler 
Production Designer: Michael Haller 
Editor: Don Zimmerman 

Cast: Jane Fonda (Sally Hyde), Jon Voight (Luke Martin), Bruce Dern (Captain 
Bob Hyde), Penelope Milford ( Vi Munson), Robert Carradine (Bill Munson), 
Robert Ginty (Sergeant Dink Mobley), Hal Ashby (cameo) 

Running Time: 127 minutes 

Release Date: February 15, 1978 

Being There (1979) 

Lorimar/Northstar International/United Artists 

Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Andrew Braunsberg; Charles B. Mulvehill (associate producer); Jack 

Schwartzman (executive producer) 
Writers: Jerzy Kosinski (adapted from his own novel); Robert C. Jones 

Cinematographer: Caleb Deschanel 
Production Designer: Michael Haller 
Editor: Don Zimmerman 
Music: Johnny Mandel 

Cast: Peter Sellers (Chance), Shirley MacLaine (Eve Rand), Melvyn Douglas 
(Benjamin Rand), Jack Warden (President "Bobby"), Richard Dysart (Dr. 
Robert Allenby), Richard Basehart (Vladimir Skrapinov), Ruth Attaway 
(Louise), Hal Ashby (cameo) 

Running Time: 130 minutes 

Release Date: December 19, 1979 

Second Hand Hearts (1981) 

Lorimar/Paramount Pictures 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: James William Guercio; Charles B. Mulvehill (associate producer) 

Writer: Charles Eastman 

Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler 

Production Designer: Michael Haller 

Editor: Amy Jones 

Music: Willis Alan Ramsey 

Cast: Robert Blake (Loyal Muke), Barbara Harris (Dinette Dusty), Sondra Blake 



(Ermy), Bert Remsen (Voyd Dusty), Shirley Stoler (Maxy), Collin Boone 

(Human Dusty), Amber Rose Gold (Iota) 
Running Time: 102 minutes 
Release Date: May 8, 1981 

Lookin' to Get Out (1982) 

Lorimar/Northstar International/Paramount Pictures 

Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Robert Schaffel, Andrew Braunsberg, Edward Teets 

Writers: Al Schwartz, Jon Voight 

Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler 

Production Designer: Robert F. Boyle 

Editor: Robert C. Jones 

Music: Johnny Mandel, Miles Goodman 

Cast: Jon Voight (Alex Kovac), Burt Young (Jerry Feldman), Ann-Margret (Patti 
Warner), Bert Remsen (Smitty Carpenter), Jude Farese (Harry), Allen Keller 
(Joey), Richard Bradford (Bernie Gold), Stacey Pickren (Rusty), Samantha 
Harper (Lillian), Hal Ashby (cameo) 

Running Time: 105 minutes 

Release Date: October 8, 1982 

Let's Spend the Night Together (1983) 

Northstar International/Raindrop/Weintraub Entertainment Group/Embassy 

Pictures Corporation 
Directors: Hal Ashby, Pablo Ferro (credited as "creative associate") 
Producers: Ronald L. Schwary; Kenneth J. Ryan (associate producer) 
Cinematographers: Gerald Fell, Caleb Deschanel 
Editor: Lisa Day 

Cast: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Ron Wood, Hal 

Ashby (cameo) 
Running Time: 95 minutes 
Release Date: February 11, 1983 

Solo Trans (1983) 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: L. A. Johnson, Neil Young; Elliot Rabinowitz (executive producer); 

Jeanne Field (line producer) 
Writers: Newell Alexander, L. A. Johnson, Neil Young 
Cinematographer: Bobby Byrne 

Cast: Neil Young (as himself), Newell Alexander (Dan Clear), Inez Drummond 
(Baby), Craig Hayes (Vito Toledo), Rosemarie Lovell (Crystal Clear), Connie 
Simmons (Connie Sue), Pegi Young (Honey) 

Running Time: 60 minutes 



The Slugger's Wife (1985) 

Rastar Films/Columbia Pictures 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Ray Stark; Margaret Booth (executive producer) 
Writer: Neil Simon 
Cinematographer: Caleb Deschanei 
Production Designer: J. Michael Riva 

Editors: Don Brochu, George C. Villaseiior; Margaret Booth (supervising edi- 

Music: Patrick Williams, Quincy Jones 

Cast: Michael O'Keefe (Darryl Palmer), Rebecca De Mornay (Debby [Hus- 
ton] Palmer), Martin Ritt (Burly DeVito), Randy Quaid (Moose Granger), 
Cleavant Derricks (Manny Alvarado), Lisa Langlois (Aline Cooper), Loudon 
Wainwright III (Gary), Hal Ashby (cameo) 

Running Time: 105 minutes 

Release Date: March 29, 1985 

8 Million Ways to Die (1986) 

PSO/TriStar Pictures 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Steve Roth; Charles B. Mulvehill (coproducer); Mark Damon (execu- 
tive producer) 

Writers: Oliver Stone, Lance Hill (as David Lee Henry); Robert Tow^ne, Hal 

Ashby, Don Edmonds (uncredited) 
Cinematographer: Stephen H. Burum 
Production Designer: Michael Haller 
Editors: Robert Lawrence, Stuart Pappe 
Music: James Newton Howard 

Cast: Jeff Bridges (Matt Scudder), Rosanna Arquette (Sarah), Alexandra Paul 
(Sunny), Randy Brooks (Willie "Chance" Walker), Andy Garcia (Angel 

Running Time: 115 minutes 

Release Date: April 25, 1986 

Beverly Hills Buntz (Television Pilot) (1987) 

MTM Enterprises/NBC 

Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: David Milch, Jeffrey Lewis (executive producer); John Romano 
(coproducer); Jessie Ward (associate producer); Michael Vittes (supervising 

Writers: Jeffrey Lewis, David Milch 

Cinematographer: Robert Seaman 

Editors: Jonathan Pontell, Alec Smight 



Cast: Dennis Franz (Norman Buntz), Peter Jurasik (Sid "The Snitch" Thurston), 
Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Rebecca Giswold), Guy Boyd (Lieutenant Pugh), 
Joe Pantoliano (Montaigne) 

Running Time: 30 minutes 

Air Date: November 5, 1987 

Jake's Journey (Television Pilot) (1988) 

HTV/Witzend Productions 
Director: Hal Ashby 

Producers: Allan McKeown, Mike Merson 

Writers: Mark Twain (novel: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court); 

Graham Chapman, David Sherlock 
Editor: John Farrell 

Cast: Graham Chapman (Sir George/Queen), Peter Cook (King Arthur), Rik 

Mayall (Troll), Chris Young (Jake) 
Running Time: 30 minutes 


Unless otherwise noted, all letters and other primary source documents are held 
at the Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles. 


1. American Film Institute (AFI) Seminar with Hal Ashby, March 12, 1975, 
interview by Rochelle Reed. 

2. Hal Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," Action 5, no. 5 (Sep- 
tember/October 1970): 10. 

1. Enter Hal 

Epigraph: Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 7. 

1. "Sah Lake News," Ogden Standard, March 19, 1901. 

2. "Diary of Important Days," October 9, 1916. Courtesy Jack Ashby. 

3. Ibid., September 8, 1917. 

4. Ibid., April 19, 1919. 

5. Diane Jacobs, "Coining Home — It's Hal Ashby at His Best," Minneapo- 
lis Star, May 12, 1978, C2. 

6. Letter from Eileen Ashby to Hal Ashby, August 22, 1960. 

7. Letter from Ardith Ashby, ca. September 2, 1932. Courtesy Mary Myers. 

8. Jack and Beth Ashby, interview with the author, Fresno, CA, October 
29, 2004. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, September 17, 1962. Courtesy 
Jack Ashby. 

11. Jack Ashby, telephone interview with the author, November 19, 2003. 

12. E-mail from Jack and Beth Ashby to the author, July 2, 2008. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Jack and Beth Ashby, telephone interview with the author, February 6, 

15. Aljean Harmetz, "Gambling on a Film about the Great Depression," 
New York Times, December 5, 1976, 2-13. 

16. Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (London: Bloomsbury, 1998), 



Notes to Pages 13-26 

17. "Dairy Official Succumbs from Gunshot Wound," Ogden Standard Ex- 
aminer, March 23, 1942, 12. 

18. Jack and Beth Ashby, interview with the author, Fresno, CA, October 

19. Harmetz, "Gambling on a Film," 2-13. 

20. Letter from Hal Ashby to Richard Avedon, March 25, 1974. 

21. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 7. 

2. The Artist as a Young Man 

Epigraph: Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, October 4, 1963. Cour- 
tesy Jack Ashby. 

1. Bob Ballantyne, email to the author, February 13, 2006. 

2. Bob Busico, telephone interview with the author, February 23, 2006. 

3. Nancy Frizzelle, "Hip Rip," Women's Wear Daily, February 3, 1972. 

4. Jack and Beth Ashby, interview with the author, Fresno, CA, October 
29, 2004. 

5. Puget Sound Naval Academy Web page, 

6. Jack Swanson, telephone interview with the author, August 5, 2004. 

7. Gus Cooper, telephone interview with the author, July 29, 2004. 

8. Jack Swanson, telephone interview with the author, August 5, 2004. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Ibid. 

11. Ibid. 

12. Gus Cooper, telephone interview with the author, July 29, 2004. 

13. Jack Swanson, telephone interview with the author, August 5, 2004. 

14. Bob Ballantyne, telephone interview with the author, February 27, 2006. 

15. Jack and Beth Ashby, interview with the author, Fresno, CA, October 

16. Ibid. 

17. Letter from Hal and Lavon Ashby to Eileen Ashby, ca. March 1, 1947. 

Courtesy Jack Ashby. 

18. Jack and Beth Ashby, interview with the author, Fresno, CA, October 

19. Jack and Beth Ashby, telephone interview with the author, December 18, 

20. Jack Ashby, telephone interview with the author, November 19, 2003. 

21. "Biography of Hal Ashby," Harold and Maude Paramount production 
notes, 1971. 

3. Los Angeles 

Epigraph: John Fante, Ask the Dust (1939; repr., Santa Rosa, CA: Black 
Sparrow, 1980), 13. 

Notes to Pages 26-36 


1. William Avery, "Hal Ashby: Getting the Right Drift," Soho Weekly 
News, February 23, 1978, 18-19. 

2. Janice Lindquist, telephone interview with the author, July 1, 2008. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Haskell Wexler, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, December 
5, 2006. 

6. Max Grow, telephone interview with the author, January 14, 2006. 

7. Jacobs, "Hal Ashby at His Best," C2. 

8. Harmetz, "Gambling on a Film," 2-13. 

9. Ralph Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking: Hal Ashby in an Interview with 
Ralph Appelbaum," Films and Filming, July 1978, 13. 

10. Sylviane Gold, "Hal Ashby's Climb to Glory," New York Post, December 
2, 1976,26. 

11. Jacobs, "Hal Ashby at His Best," C2. 

12. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, October 22, 1948. Courtesy 
Jack Ashby. 

13. Letter from Janice Grow to the author, December 30, 2005. 

14. Harmetz, "Gambling on a Film," 2-13. 

15. Jack and Beth Ashby, email to the author, July 2, 2008. 

16. Dale Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" Los Angeles Times, 
October 17, 1982, Calendar section, 23. 

17. Janice Lindquist, telephone interview with the author, July 1, 2008. 

18. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 7. 

19. David Sterritt, "'That Special Okie Southwest Flavor, That Humor,'" 
Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 1977, 31. 

20. API Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Sam Grossman, January 11, 

21. Jacobs, "Hal Ashby at His Best," C2. 

22. Gold, "Hal Ashby's Climb to Glory," 26. 

23. Tay Garnett, "Hal Ashby," in Directing: Learn from the Masters (Film- 
makers, no. 48), ed. Anthony Slide (London: Scarecrow, 1996), 1. 

24. Robert Ballantyne, email to the author, February 13, 2006. 

25. Richard Fernandez, "Cinema Chat with Hal Ashby," Audience 10, no. 
2 (1978): 25. 

26. Gerald Early, ed.. The Sammy Davis Jnr. Reader (New York: Farrar 
Straus Giroux, 2001), 551. 

27. Gloria Box, telephone interview with the author, February 11, 2004. 

28. Sammy Davis Jr., with Jane Boyar and Burt Boyar, Sammy: An Autobi- 
ography (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000), 123. 

29. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, September 10, 2004. 

30. Bill Box, telephone interview with the author, March 19, 2006. 

31. Betty Gumm, interview with the author, Los Angeles, November 30, 


Notes to Pages 37-47 

32. Ian Bernard, telephone interview with the author, April 28, 2004. 

33. Ibid. 

34. John Mandel, telephone interview with the author, March 18, 2006. 

35. Bill Box, interview with the author, Los Osos, CA, November 28, 

36. Ian Bernard, telephone interview with the author, April 28, 2004. 

37. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (London: Penguin, 1958), 5. 

38. Ian Bernard, telephone interview with the author, April 28, 2004. 

39. Gloria Box, telephone interview with the author, February 11, 2004. 

40. Bill Box, telephone interview with the author, February 11, 2004. 

41. Ian Bernard, telephone interview with the author, April 28, 2004. 

42. Bill Box, email to the author, February 11, 2004. 

43. Bill Box, telephone interview with the author, February 11, 2004. 

44. Ibid. 

45. Bill Box, email to the author, February 11, 2004. 

46. John Mandel, telephone interview with the author, March 18, 2006. 

47. Ian Bernard, telephone interview with the author, April 28, 2004. 

48. John Ridley, A Conversation with the Mann (New York: Warner Books, 
2002), 244. 

49. Ian Bernard, telephone interview with the author, April 28, 2004. 

50. Ian Bernard, email to the author, April 30, 2004. 

51. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, February 22, 2006. 

4. Doors Open . . . 

Epigraphs: Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Irene Testot-Ferry, The Little 
Frince (1943; repr., Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1995), 82; letter from Hal 
Ashby to Robert Swink, April 29, 1968. 

1. Bill Box, telephone interview with the author, February 11, 2004. 

2. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Sam Grossman, January 11, 

3. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 7-8. 

4. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, February 22, 2006. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Ibid. 
7 Ibid. 

8. Ibid. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Ibid. 

11. Sterritt, '"That Special Okie Southwest Flavor,'" 31. 

12. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 8. 

13. Hal Ashby, interview by Catherine Wyler February 12, 1985, outtake 
held by the Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles. 

14. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 8. 

15. Hal Ashby, interview by Catherine Wyler, February 12, 1985. 

Notes to Pages 48-61 


16. Ibid. 

17. Ibid. 
18. Ibid. 

19. Ian Bernard, telephone interview with the author, April 28, 2004. 

20. Ibid. 

21. Tom Blackwell, telephone interview with the author, March 28, 2006. 

22. Ian Bernard, telephone interview with the author, April 28, 2004. 

23. Tom Blackwell, telephone interview with the author, March 28, 2006. 

24. Ibid. 

25. Letter from Maloy Barreto to Hal Ashby, ca. 1980. 

26. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, September 10, 2004. 

27. Hal Ashby, interview by Catherine Wyler, February 12, 1985. 

28. Ian Bernard and Wm. Hal Ashby, The Sound of Silence. 

29. Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking," 16. 

30. Memo from Leona Epstein to Society of Motion Picture Film Editors, 
October 27, 1958. 

31. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 8. 

32. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, February 22, 2006. 

33. Ibid. 

34. Ian Bernard, telephone interview with the author, April 28, 2004. 

35. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, September 10, 2004. 

36. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, February 22, 2006. 

37. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, September 10, 2004. 

38. Ibid. 

39. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, January 30, 

40. Hal Ashby, interview by Catherine Wyler, February 12, 1985. 

41. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, April 6, 2006. 

42. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, February 22, 2006. 

43. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, April 6, 2006. 

44. Complaint for Divorce (No. 100932), December 29, 1961. 

45. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, April 6, 2006. 

46. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, September 10, 2004. 

47. Letter from Maloy Barreto to Hal Ashby, ca. 1980. 

48. Maloy Barreto, telephone interview with the author, September 10, 2004. 

5. The Family Man 

Epigraphs: Carl Sandburg, Remembrance Rock (New York: Harcourt, 
Brace and Company, 1948), 7; letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, September 
17, 1962. Courtesy Jack Ashby. 

1. Jack and Beth Ashby, interview with the author, Fresno, CA, October 

2. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, September 17, 1962. Courtesy 
Jack Ashby. 


Notes to Pages 61-68 

3. Ibid. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Letter from "Carrie Ashby" (typed by Shirley Ashby) to Eileen Ashby, 
November 12, 1962. Courtesy Jack Ashby. 

6. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, August 6, 1962. Courtesy Jack 

7. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, March 22, 1963. Courtesy Jack 

8. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, October 4, 1963. Courtesy Jack 

9. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, January 2, 1963. Courtesy Jack 

10. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, August 7, 1963. Courtesy Jack 

11. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, June 20, 1963. Courtesy Jack 

12. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, September 15, 1963. Courtesy 
Jack Ashby. 

13. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, August 7, 1963. Courtesy Jack 

14. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, September 15, 1963. Courtesy 
Jack Ashby. 

15. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, September 17, 1962. Courtesy 
Jack Ashby. 

16. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, June 20, 1963. Courtesy Jack 

17. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, October 4, 1963. Courtesy Jack 


18. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, February 18, 1964. Courtesy 
Jack Ashby. 

19. Ibid. 

20. "Harold Kress," in Selected Takes: Film Editors on Editing, by Vincent 
LoBrutto (New York: Praeger, 1991), 10-11. 

21. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 8. 

22. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Rochelle Reed, March 12, 

6. Norman 

Epigraph: Norman Jewison, This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me: 
An Autobiography (New York: St. Martin's, 2004), 112. 

1. Letter from Budd Cherry to Hal Ashby, December 31, 1968. 

2. Charles Champlin, "'Loved One' Already Exciting," Eos Angeles Times, 
August 2, 1965. 

Notes to Pages 69-76 


3. Tony Richardson, Long Distance Runner: A Memoir (London: Faber & 
Faber, 1993), 166. 

4. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 8. 

5. Stephen Rebello, "A Mild and Wild Maverick," Vlife, December/January 
2005, 96. 

6. Jewison, This Terrible Business, 98. 

7. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

8. Ibid. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Ian Bernard, email to the author, March 31, 2006. 

11. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

12. Jewison, This Terrible Business, 98. 

13. Ibid., 102. 

14. David Weddle, Sam Peckinpah: "If They Move . . . Kill 'Em.'": The Life 
and Times of Sam Peckinpah (New York: Grove, 1994), 258. 

15. Jewison, This Terrible Business, 109. 

16. James Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," American Film, May 
1980, 59. 

17. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, January 30, 1980. 

18. Robert J. Emery, "Norman Jewison," in The Directors — Take One (New 
York: TV Books, 1999), 198; Jewison, This Terrible Business, 114. 

19. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 8. 

20. Whit., ''The Cincinnati Kid," Daily Variety, October 14, 1965. 

21. James Powers, "'Cincinnati Kid' Superb Picture with Fine Cast," Hol- 
lywood Reporter, October 14, 1965, 3. 

22. James Powers, "'The Loved One' a Satire with an Offbeat Message," 
Hollywood Reporter, October 12, 1965, 3; Whit., review of The Loved One, 
Daily Variety, October 12, 1965. 

7. Motion Picture Pioneers of America 

Epigraph: Haskell Wexler, commentary, on In the Heat of the Night DVD, 
dir. Norman Jewison (MGM, 2001). 

1. "Confrontations: Norman Jewison Interviewed by Gordon Cow," Films 
and Filming, January 1971, 22. 

2. Larry Salvato and Dennis Schaefer, "Hal Ashby Interview," Millimeter, 
October 1976, 37. 

3. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

4. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 8. 

5. "Oral History with Robert F. Boyle," interview by George Turner, with 
an additional interview by Barbara Hall, August 21, 26, 1992, © AMPAS 1998, 
p. 222,223. 

6. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 


Notes to Pages 76-89 

7. Pablo Ferro, interview with the author, Winnetka, CA, October 20, 2004. 

8. Murf., review of The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, 
Daily Variety, May 24, 1966. 

9. James Powers, '"Russians Coming' Brilhant Comedy Headed for Top 
Returns at Box Office," Hollywood Reporter, May 26, 1966, 3. 

10. Rebello, "A Mild and Wild Maverick," 96. 

11. Army Archerd, "Just for Variety," Daily Variety, August 4, 1965. 

12. Wayne Warga, "Civil Rights and a Producer's Dilemma," Los Angeles 
Times, April 14, 1968, Calendar section, 1. 

13. Lee Grant, telephone interview with the author, July 22, 2006. 

14. Memo from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison et al., September 21, 1966. 

15. Memos from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison et al., September 26-Octo- 
ber 13, 1966. 

16. Memo from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison et al., September 27, 1966. 

17. Memo from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison et al., October 12, 1966. 

18. Memo from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison et al., October 1, 1966. 

19. Memo from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison et al., October 4, 1966. 

20. Draft of undated letter from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison, late Octo- 
ber 1966. 

21. Norman Jewison, commentary, on In the Heat of the Night DVD. 

22. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 59. 

23. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

24. Harmetz, "Gambling on a Film," 2-13. 

25. Rebello, "A Mild and Wild Maverick," 96. 

26. Jewison, This Terrible Business, 150-51. 

8. 1968 

1. Radie Harris, "Broadway Ballyhoo," Hollywood Reporter, June 9, 1967. 

2. Letter from Hal Ashby to Shirley Ashby, October 13, 1967. 

3. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

4. API Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

5. Jewison, This Terrible Business, 164. 

6. AFT Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

7. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 172. 

8. James Lipscomb, "Improvise! — Films Are Made with Whimsy," Life, 
November 10, 1967 89. 

9. Murf., review of In the Heat of the Night, Variety, June 21, 1967. 

10. John Mahoney, "'In the Heat of the Night' One of the Year's B.O. Win- 
ners," Hollywood Reporter, June 21, 1967, 3. 

11. Haskell Wexler, commentary, on In the Heat of the Night DVD. 

12. Memo from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison et al., October 10, 1966. 

13. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

Notes to Pages 91-101 


14. Letter from Hal Ashby to Shirley Ashby, October 13, 1967. 

15. Norman Jewison, commentary, on The Thomas Crown Affair DVD, dir. 
Norman Jewison (MGM, 2002). 

16. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

17. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 59. 

18. Letter from Hal Ashby to Shirley Ashby, January 3, 1968. 

19. Court Memorandum, in the Matter of the Adoption of Baby Boy Law- 
rence (No. WE A.D. 1937), May 15, 1968. 

20. Letter from Hal Ashby to Shirley Ashby, September 15, 1970. 

21. Jewison, This Terrible Business, 151-52. 

22. Quincy Jones, Q: The Autobiography ofQuincy Jones (London: Hodder 
& Stoughton, 2001), 216. 

23. Letter from Quincy Jones, read at Hal Ashby memorial service, Decem- 
ber 30, 1988. 

24. Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, Inside Oscar (New York: Ballantine, 
1996), 411. 

25. Jewison, This Terrible Business, 153. 

26. Memo from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison et al., October 13, 1966. 

27. Richard Cuskelly, "A Rip Van Winkle Beard and a Calm Demeanor," Los 
Angeles Herald Examiner, April 2, 1972. 

28. Will Jones, "Film Guru Ashby Enjoys View from the Mountain," Min- 
neapolis Tribune, February 1976. 

29. "Film Editor from Ogden Wins Oscar," Ogden Standard Examiner, 
April 12, 1968. 

9. Where It's At 

Epigraph: Ben Hecht, Gaily, Gaily (1963), quoted at the beginning of Gaily, 
Gaily (Norman Jewison, 1969). 

1. Note from Marilyn and Alan Bergman to Hal Ashby, April 11, 1968; 
telegram from Buzz Brandt to Hal Ashby, April 15, 1968. 

2. Telefax from Steve McQueen to Hal Ashby, April 11, 1968. 

3. Letter from Hal Ashby to William Wyler, April 25, 1968. 

4. Letter from Hal Ashby to Bob Swink, April 29, 1968. 

5. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 9. 

6. Bridget Byrne, "Dream Weaver Hal Ashby," Los Angeles Herald Exam- 
iner, April 18, 1976. 

7. Jones, "Film Guru Ashby." 

8. Harmetz, "Gambling on a Film," 2-13. 

9. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, June 5, 1968. 

10. Jewison, This Terrible Business, 172. 

11. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

12. Christopher Sandford, McQueen: The Biography (London: HarperCol- 
lins, 2001), 202; Murf., review of The Thomas Crown Affair, Daily Variety, 
June 19, 1968. 


Notes to Pages 101-109 

13. John Mahoney, "Mirisch's 'Crown' Flashy," Hollywood Reporter, June 
19, 1968, 3; review of The Thomas Crown Affair, Los Angeles Times, June 28, 

14. Letter from Laurence Babb to Hal Ashby, July 19, 1968. 

15. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

16. Beau Bridges, telephone interview with the author, November 4, 2004. 

17. Ibid. 

18. Letter from Margot Kidder to Hal Ashby, May 27, 1970. 

19. Kenneth Bowser, dir., Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs 
and Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (Shout! Factory, 2004). 

20. Letter from Margot Kidder to Hal Ashby, April 1, 1970. 

21. "Norman Jewison Directs And Justice for All,"" Millimeter, October 

22. "Oral History with Ralph E. Winters," interview by Jennifer Petersen, 
May 24, 2000, AMPAS, Los Angeles, 2003, p. 289. 

23. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 9. 

24. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 57. 

25. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 9. 

26. Ibid., 9-10. 

27. Beau Bridges, telephone interview with the author, November 4, 2004. 
10. The Director 

Epigraph: Jessica Hundley, "The Ultimate Hollywood Outlaw," Fremiere, 
October 2006, 89. 

1. Telegram from Jan Schrader to Hal Ashby, May 29, 1969. 

2. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 10. 

3. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 57. 

4. Beau Bridges, telephone interview with the author, November 4, 2004. 

5. Howard Gensler, "Absentee Landlord," Premiere (U.S.), August 1992, 96. 

6. Frances Taylor, "'The Landlord' a Tenant in LI Home," Long Island 
Press, August 3, 1969. 

7. Letter from Pearl Bailey to Hal Ashby, December 10, 1969. 

8. Beau Bridges, telephone interview with the author, November 4, 2004. 

9. "Oral History with Robert F. Boyle," 224. 

10. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 10. 

11. Beau Bridges, telephone interview with the author, November 4, 2004. 

12. "Shooting at the Virshups: A Scene within a Scene," Great Neck Record, 
July 31, 1969, 8. 

13. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 
14. Ibid. 

15. Ashby, "Breaking Out of the Cutting Room," 10. 

16. Lee Grant, telephone interview with the author, July 22, 2006. 

Notes to Pages 109-123 


17. Salvato and Schaefer, "Hal Ashby Interview," 38. 

18. Frizzelle, "Hip Rip." 

19. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

20. Program for Hal Ashby's wedding to Joan Marshall, August 21, 1969. 

21. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

22. Lee Grant, telephone interview with the author, July 22, 2006. 

23. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

24. Ibid. 

25. Letter from Sheri Marshall Ashby to Hal Ashby, October 8, 1969. 

26. Memo from Hal Ashby to Marvin Mirisch, ca. November 7, 1969. 

27. Letter from Hal Ashby to Diana Sands, December 17, 1969. 

28. API Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Sam Grossman, January 11, 

29. Letter from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison, January 8, 1970. 

30. Al Kooper, Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards (New York: 
Billboard Books, 1998), 152. 

31. Letter from Margot Kidder to Hal Ashby, April 1, 1970. 

32. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

33. Letter from Hal Ashby to Joe Baltake, May 25, 1971. 

34. Sue Cameron, "Lee Grant Thinks, Talks Strong on Career Progress," 
Hollywood Reporter, April 29, 1971. 

35. Letter from Hal Ashby to Sue Mengers, June 2, 1970. 

36. Letter from Hal Ashby to Julie Newmar, July 29, 1970. 

37. Letter from Maloy Baretto to Hal Ashby, ca. 1980. 

11. Harold and Maude 

Epigraph: API Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, Janu- 
ary 30, 1980. 

1. Frizzelle, "Hip Rip." 

2. Robert Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture (London: HarperCollins, 
1995), 169. 

3. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Sam Grossman, January 11, 

4. Salvato and Schaefer, "Hal Ashby Interview," 42. 

5. Chuck Mulvehill, telephone interview with the author, April 12, 2006. 

6. Robert Downey Sr., interview with the author. New York, January 3, 

7. Steve Toy, "Director Hal Ashby's Office Is a House with Psychedelic 
Walls," Daily Variety, December 24, 1971, 14. 

8. Ruth Gordon, My Side (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 391. 

9. Letter from Norman Jewison to Hal Ashby, ca. early November 1970. 

10. Gordon, My Side, 392. 

11. Letter from Hal Ashby, December 3, 1970. 


Notes to Pages 123-134 

12. Memo from Hal Ashby to Sheila Woodland et al., November 19, 1970. 

13. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Sam Grossman, January 11, 

14. Letter from Hal Ashby to Robert Evans, December 1, 1970. 

15. Gordon, My Side, 395. 

16. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 56. 

17. Alex Simon, "Life in the Court of Bud," Venice, May 2005, 78. 

18. Ibid., 78. 

19. Hal Ashby memorial service, December 30, 1988. 

20. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Sam Grossman, January 11, 

21. Jeff Wexler, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 2004. 

22. Gordon, My Side, 391. 

23. Telegram from Peter Bart to Hal Ashby, February 18, 1971. 

24. Letter from Hal Ashby to Cyril Cusack, April 12, 1972. 

25. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Sam Grossman, January 11, 

26. Simon, "Life in the Court of Bud," 78. 

27. Ruth Gordon, interview by Leticia Kent, New York Times, April 4, 1971. 

28. Robert Downey Sr., interview with the author. New York, January 3, 

29. Letter from Hal Ashby to Norman Jewison, March 29, 1971. 

30. Ibid. 

31. Telegram from Peter Bart to Hal Ashby, July 29, 1971. 

32. Michael Shedlin, "Harold and Maude," Film Quarterly, Fall 1972. 

33. Peter Bart and Peter Guber, Shoot Out: Surviving Fame and (Mis)Fortune 
in Hollywood (London: Faber & Faber, 2002), 185. 

34. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 173. 

35. Charles Champlin, "Harold and Maude," Los Angeles Times, December 
19, 1971; Judith Crist, "Harold and Maude," New York, December 20, 1971; 
Pauline Kael, "Harold and Maude," in 5001 Nights at the Movies (New York: 
Holt, Rinehart & Wilson, 1982), 242. 

36. Bowser, dir.. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. 

37. Review of Harold and Maude, Playboy, April 1972. 

38. Bowser, dir.. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. 

39. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Sam Grossman, January 11, 

40. Cuskelly, "A Rip Van Winkle Beard." 

12. Nicholson 

Epigraph: Harmetz, "Gambling on a Film," 2-13. 

1. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 174. 

2. Robert David Crane and Christopher Fryer, "Hal Ashby," in Jack Nich- 
olson, Face to Face (New York: M. Evans, 1975), 110. 

Notes to Pages 135-144 


3. Chuck Barris, telephone interview with the author, January 6, 2006. 

4. Marilyn Beck, "Director Charges Studio Was Afraid of 'Maude,'" Phila- 
delphia Evening Bulletin, January 25, 1972, B33. 

5. Chuck Mulvehill, telephone interview with the author, April 12, 2006. 

6. Email from Deanna Benatovich to the author. May 7, 2005. 

7. Ibid. 

8. Cuskelly, "A Rip Van Winkle Beard." 

9. D.F. Films reader's report on The Last Detail, ca. September 1971. 

10. Crane and Fryer, "Hal Ashby," 113. 

11. "Biography: HAL ashby," The Last Detail Columbia production notes, 
January 15, 1974. 

12. Bridget Byrne, "Fighting for 'The Last Detail,'" Los Angeles Herald 
Examiner, February 10, 1974. 

13. Lawrence H. Suid, Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Mili- 
tary Image in Film (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002), 297. 

14. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

15. Email from Deanna Benatovich to the author, April 19, 2005. 

16. Email from Deanna Benatovich to the author. May 7, 2005. 

17. "Directors of the 9th Era," Esquire, February 1975, 69. 

13. The Last Detail 

Epigraph: Ted Demme and Richard LaGravenese, dirs., A Decade under 
the Influence (IFC Films, 2003). 

1. Hundley, "The Ultimate Hollywood Outlaw," 89. 

2. Hal Ashby memorial service, December 30, 1988. 

3. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

4. Joe Baltake, "Ashby Likes His Characters, Warts and All," Philadelphia 
Daily News, February 8, 1980, 25. 

5. Letter from Gerry Ayres to Hal Ashby, ca. mid-November 1972. 

6. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

7. Salvato and Schaefer, "Hal Ashby Interview," 37. 

8. T. Starr, "High on the Future," Ticketron Entertainment, June/July 
1973, 9. 

9. Kathleen Miller, "Kathleen Miller — Notes," Stay Hungry United Artists 
production notes. 

10. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Rochelle Reed, March 12, 

11. Janet Maslin, "Finishing Up the Last Details," Boston Phoenix, Febru- 
ary 6, 1973, 2-3. 

12. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 57. 

13. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 


Notes to Pages 144-156 

14. Robert C. Jones, telephone interview with the author, April 14, 2006. 

15. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

16. Letter from Ken Kesey to Hal Ashby, ca. May 1973. 

17. Letter from Ken Kesey to Hal Ashby, June 18, 1973. 

18. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

19. Al Schwartz, interview with the author, Los Angeles, January 26, 2007. 

20. Mary A. Fischer, "Peter Sellers' Chance of a Lifetime," Rolling Stone, 
April 19, 1979, 63. 

21. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 180. 

22. Fischer, "Peter Sellers' Chance of a Lifetime," 64. 

23. Teletype message from Gerry Ayres to David Begelman, August 23, 

24. Salvato and Schaefer, "Hal Ashby Interview," 65-66. 

25. Ibid. 

26. Jack and Beth Ashby, telephone interview with the author, December 

27. Letter from Eileen Ashby to Hal Ashby, November 23, 1969. 

28. Letter from Eileen Ashby to Hal Ashby, March 17, 1970. 

29. Andrew Sarris, "Salty Way to Naval Prison," Village Voice, February 7, 

14. Shampoo 

Epigraphs: Directed by Hal Ashby, documentary (TV Ontario, 2005); Lee 
Grant, telephone interview with the author, July 22, 2006. 

1. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 193. 

2. Letter from Hal Ashby to Sheila Woodland, November 26, 1973. 

3. Salvato and Schaefer, "Hal Ashby Interview," 44. 

4. Suzanne Finstad, Warren Beatty: A Private Man (London: Aurum, 
2005), 414; Ellis Amburn, The Sexiest Man Alive: Warren Beatty, the Biogra- 
phy (London: Virgin Books, 2003), 177. 

5. Finstad, Warren Beatty, 414. 

6. Warren Beatty, telephone interview with the author, January 18, 2007. 

7. Miller, "Kathleen Miller — Notes." 

8. "Robert Towne," in Filmmakers on Filmmaking, ed. Joseph McBride, 2 
vols. (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, 1983), 2:76. 

9. Ken Gross, "Lee Grant," People Weekly, October 23, 1989. 

10. Lee Grant, telephone interview with the author, July 22, 2006. 

11. Christopher Wilson, Absolutely . . . Goldie: The Biography (London: 
HarperColhns, 1999), 105-6. 

12. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Rochelle Reed, March 12, 

13. Warren Beatty, telephone interview with the author, January 18, 2007. 

Notes to Pages 156-166 


14. Email from Peter Sorel to the author, February 7, 2004. 

15. "Warren Beatty on Discretion, Valor and Better Parts," Films Illustrated, 
May 1975, 333. 

16. API Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Rochelle Reed, March 12, 

17. Warren Beatty, telephone interview with the author, January 18, 2007. 

18. Finstad, Warren Beatty, 417. 

19. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 193-94. 

20. Ibid., 193. 

21. Jeff Wexler, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 2004. 

22. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Rochelle Reed, March 12, 

23. Jacobs, "Hal Ashby at His Best," C2. 

24. James Spada, Shirley and Warren (New York: Collier, 1985), 168. 

25. Email from Deanna Benatovich to the author. May 14, 2005. 

26. Letter from Tom Blackwell to Hal Ashby, June 1, 1974. 

27. Wiley and Bona, Inside Oscar, 493. 

28. Warren Beatty, telephone interview with the author, January 18, 2007. 

29. Letter from Ellen Burstyn to Hal Ashby, February 28, 1980. 

30. Michael Butler, telephone interview with the author, January 7, 2004. 

31. Ibid. 

32. Michael Butler, "Hair: Getting the Film Together," October 2, 2000, 

33. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Rochelle Reed, March 12, 1975. 

34. Warren Beatty, telephone interview with the author, January 18, 2007. 

35. Rudy Wurlitzer, telephone interview with the author, April 17, 2006. 

36. Chris Nashawaty, "The Warren Report," Entertainment Weekly, March 

37. Hal Ashby's Daily Journal, February 6, 1975. 

38. Salvato and Schaefer, "Hal Ashby Interview," 64. 

39. "Dialogue on Film: Robert Towne," American Film, December 1975, 44. 

40. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Rochelle Reed, March 12, 

15. Glory Bound 

1. David Carradine, interview with the author, Los Angeles, October 14, 

2. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by Rochelle Reed, March 12, 

3. Warren Beatty, telephone interview with the author, January 18, 2007. 

4. Julia Phillips, You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again (London: 
Heinemann, 1991), 196. 

5. Erica Jong, Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir (New York: Tarcher, 2006); 
Phillips, You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, 205. 


Notes to Pages 167-174 

6. Richard Thompson, "In the American Grain (an Interview)," Sight and 
Sound, Summer 1976, 143. 

7. Harmetz, "Gambling on a Film," 2-13. 

8. Joseph McBride, "Song for Woody," Film Comment, November-Decem- 
ber 1976, 17. 

9. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 195. 

10. Mireille "Mimi" Machu, telephone interview with the author, October 

11. Pierre Sauvage, "Hal Ashby: On Bound for Glory," Cannes Film Daily, 
May 18, 1977,48. 

12. Robert Downey Sr., interview with the author. New York, January 3, 

13. Bernard Weinraub, "Carradine Plays Woody 'Like Me,'" New York 
Times, December 4, 1976. 

14. David Carradine, Endless Highway (Boston: Journey Editions, 1995), 

15. David Carradine, interview with the author, Los Angeles, October 14, 

16. Fernandez, "Cinema Chat with Hal Ashby," 25. 

17. Thompson, "In the American Grain (an Interview)," 143. 

18. Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking," 15. 

19. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

20. Demme and LaGravenese, dirs., A Decade under the Influence. 

21. Email from Michael Dare to the author, February 21, 2004. 

22. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

23. Jon Carroll, "Hey Hey, Woody Guthrie, We'll Make You a Star," Village 
Voice, October 13, 1975, 132. 

24. Frances Taylor, "Director's Vision Vital to Success," Long Island Press, 
November 21, 1976. 

25. Edward Kaufman, "Haller — Visually Creating Time and Space," Los 
Angeles Herald Examiner, March 8, 1977, B6. 

26. Robert Downey Sr., telephone interview with the author, December 30, 

27. David Carradine, interview with the author, Los Angeles, October 14, 

28. Joseph McBride, "Bound for Glory, about a Month over Sked, Called 
'Murderous' by Blumofe," Daily Variety, December 29, 1975. 

29. Rebello, "A Mild and Wild Maverick," 97 

30. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 196. 

31. Aljean Harmetz, "Cocaine and Hollywood," New York Times, July 9, 

32. Robert Downey Sr., interview with the author. New York, January 3, 

Notes to Pages 175-184 


33. Carradine, Endless Highway, 418. 

34. David Carradine, interview with the author, Los Angeles, October 14, 

35. Ibid. 

36. Harmetz, "Gambhng on a Film," 2-13. 

37. David Barry, "The Making of a Maverick," Women's Wear Daily, May 
21, 1976, 12. 

38. Ibid. 

39. Letter from Pete Seeger to Guthrie Thomas, December 20, 1975. 

40. Memo from Mike Medavoy to Hal Ashby, February 2, 1976. 

41. Dustin Hoffman, interview with the author. New York, February 15, 

42. Haskell Wexler, interview with the author, Santa Monica, December 5, 

43. Mireille "Mimi" Machu, telephone interview with the author, October 

44. Chuck Mulvehill, telephone interview with the author, April 12, 2006. 

45. Dianne Schroeder Hanks, telephone interview with the author, April 20, 

46. Dianne Schroeder Hanks, telephone interview with the author, January 
22, 2007 

47. Ibid. 

48. Lee Grant, "Film Clips," Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1976. 

49. David Carradine, interview with the author, Los Angeles, October 14, 

50. Baltake, "Ashby Likes His Characters," 25. 

51. McBride, "Song for Woody," 26. 

52. AFT Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, October 20, 

53. "Our Critic Eyes the Future and Blinks," Village Voice, September 13, 
1976, 107. 

54. Sterritt, "'That Special Okie Southwest Flavor,'" 31. 

55. McBride, "Song for Woody," 26. 

16. Coming Home 

Epigraph: Tim Buckley, "Once I Was," Goodbye and Hello, Elektra Re- 
cords, 1967; Damien Love, "Bruce Dern," Uncut, January 2004, 98. 

1. Jerome Hellman, telephone interview with the author, August 2, 2006. 

2. Note from Jerome Hellman to Hal Ashby, December 13, 1973. 

3. Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking," 13. 

4. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 55. 

5. Janet Maslin, "For Jon Voight, a Coming Home," New York Times, 
February 13, 1978, C15. 

6. Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking," 11. 

7. Ibid. 


Notes to Pages 185-194 

8. Jacobs, "Hal Ashby at His Best," C2. 

9. Note from Haskell Wexler to Hal Ashby, ca. August 1976. 

10. "Dialogue on Film: Jerome Hellman," American Film, June 1978, 36. 

11. Jerome Hellman, telephone interview with the author, August 2, 2006. 

12. Memo from Jane Fonda to Hal Ashby, Jerome Hellman, Bruce Gilbert, 
Waldo Salt, et al., November 24, 1976. 

13. Jane Fonda, My Life So Far (London: Random House, 2005), 361. 

14. Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking," 12. 

15. "Dialogue on Film: Jerome Hellman," 36. 

16. Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking," 12. 

17. Kirk Honeycutt, "The Five-Year Struggle to Make 'Coming Home,'" 
New York Times, February 19, 1978, 2-13. 

18. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 55. 

19. Rudy Wurlitzer, telephone interview with the author, April 17, 2006. 

20. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 55. 

21. Ibid., 56. 

22. Gregg Kilday, "Jon Voight," Moviegoer, July 1982, 14. 

23. "Coming Back Home" documentary, on Coming Home DVD (MGM, 

24. Demme and LaGravenese, dirs., A Decade under the Influence. 

25. "Coming Back Home" documentary. 

26. Jon Voight, telephone interview with the author, October 20, 2006. 
27 Ibid. 

28. Letter to Chuck Mulvehill from John D. Chase, January 13, 1977. 

29. Avery, "Hal Ashby: Getting the Right Drift," 19. 

30. Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking," 13. 

31. Maslin, "For Jon Voight, a Coming Home," C15. 

32. Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking," 13. 

33. Maslin, "For Jon Voight, a Coming Home," C15. 

34. Benjamin Bergery, Reflections: Twenty-One Cinematographers at Work 
(Hollywood, CA: ASC Holding Corp., June 2002), 135. 

35. Robert Carradine, interview with the author, Edinburgh, August 27, 

36. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 55-56. 

37. "Guardian/NFT Interview: Jane Fonda," Guardian, June 3, 2005. 

38. Fonda, My Life So Far, 372. 

39. Demme and LaGravenese, dirs., A Decade under the Influence. 

40. "Coming Back Home" documentary. 

41. Tony Crawley, "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance (Silent) Runner," 
Films Illustrated, October 1978, 53. 

42. Appelbaum, "Positive Thinking," 14. 

43. Carrie Ashby, interview with the author, Laguna Beach, CA, December 
3, 2006. See also Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 354. 

44. "Coming Back Home" documentary. 

Notes to Pages 194-206 


45. Rex Reed, "Jon Voight," in Travolta to Keaton (New York: William 
Morrow, 1979), 214. 

46. Dianne Schroeder, telephone interview with the author, April 20, 2006. 

47. Mike Medavoy, interview with the author. Culver City, CA, September 
21, 2004. 

48. Letter from Pierre Sauvage to Hal Ashby, June 13, 1977. 

49. Jeff Freedman, "Ashby Ponders 'American,' 'Hawkline' as Next Project," 
Hollywood Reporter, February 23, 1978. 

50. Jerome Hellman, telephone interview with the author, August 2, 2006. 
51. Ibid. 

52. Jacobs, "Hal Ashby at His Best," C2. 

53. Fernandez, "Cinema Chat with Hal Ashby," 27. 

17. Double Feature 

Epigraphs: Bruce Cook, "Stalking the Hamster of Happiness," American 
Film, December 1978-January 1979, 27; Melvyn Douglas and Tom Arthur, See 
You at the Movies: The Autobiography of Melvyn Douglas (London: University 
Press of America, 1986), 228. 

1. Fernandez, "Cinema Chat with Hal Ashby," 27. 

2. Letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, February 27, 1979. 

3. Aljean Harmetz, "Hal Ashby Tries 'Doubling Up' as a Film Director," 
New York Times, June 25, 1978. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Roger Lewis, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (London: Arrow, 1995), 


6. Todd McCarthy, "Hal Ashby's Prod'n Experiment Doubles His Feature 
Film Output," Daily Variety, November 26, 1979, 2. 

7. Andrew Braunsberg, telephone interview with the author, April 4, 2006. 

8. Harmetz, "Hal Ashby Tries 'Doubling Up.'" 

9. Charles Eastman, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 

10. Second Hand Hearts Northstar press notes. 

11. James William Guercio, telephone interview with the author, July 15, 

12. Jordan R. Young and Mike Bruns, "Hal Ashby: Satisfaction in Being 
There," Millimeter, May 1980, 94. 

13. Charles Champlin, "Robert Blake Shifts Gears for 'Hamster,'" Los An- 
geles Times, October 8, 1978, Calendar section, 34. 

14. Haskell Wexler, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, December 

15. Hal Ashby memorial service, December 30, 1988. 

16. Dianne Schroeder Hanks, telephone interview with the author, April 20, 

17. Cook, "Stalking the Hamster of Happiness," 27. 


Notes to Pages 206-216 

18. James William Guercio, telephone interview with the author, July 15, 

19. Champlin, "Robert Blake Shifts Gears," 34. 

20. Haskell Wexler, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, Decem- 
ber 5, 2006. 

21. Champlin, "Robert Blake Shifts Gears," 34. 

22. Letter from Hal Ashby to Ed Bendy, September 2, 1978. 

23. Scott Bowles, "Actor Bert Remsen a Reel Veteran of Films," Daily Texan, 
April 30, 1981, 18. 

24. Louise Sweeney, "Jerzy Kosinski and the Nine Million Dollar Glass of 
Water," Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 1979, B15. 

25. Young and Bruns, "Hal Ashby: Satisfaction in Being There," 91. 

26. Bob Jones, telephone interview with the author, April 14, 2006. 

27. Young and Bruns, "Hal Ashby: Satisfaction in Being There," 91. 

28. Caleb Deschanel interview. Millimeter, July 1980, 91. 

29. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 53. 

30. John Hartl, "'Being There' a Seven-Year Project for Ashby, Sellers," Se- 
attle Times, February 17, 1980, J14. 

31. Lee Grant, "Film Clips," Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1979, IV-7. 

32. Andrew Braunsberg, telephone interview with the author, April 4, 2006. 

33. Young and Bruns, "Hal Ashby: Satisfaction in Being There," 97. 

34. Mitchell Glazer, "The Strange World of Peter Sellers," Rolling Stone, 
April 17, 1980, 46. 

35. "What Peter Sellers Didn't Say," Lorimar press release, 2. 

36. Draft of letter from Hal Ashby to Melvyn [Douglas?] and Roger [Ebert?], 
ca. August/September 1980. 

37. Douglas and Arthur, See You at the Movies, 116-1%. 

38. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 53. 

39. Robert Downey Sr., interview with the author, New York, January 3, 2006. 

40. Michael Dare, "How the 'Walking on Water' Shot in Being There Actu- 
ally Got Made," 

41. Rebello, "A Mild and Wild Maverick," 97. 

42. Hal Ashby memorial service, December 30, 1988. 

43. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 60. 

44. Letter from Hal Ashby to Leonard Hirshan, March 5, 1979. 

45. Letter from Bo Smith to Hal Ashby, February 15, 1979. 

46. Caleb Deschanel, telephone interview with the author, January 8, 2007. 

47. Caleb Deschanel interview (Millimeter), 93. 

48. Powers, "Dialogue on Film: Hal Ashby," 54. 

18. Being There 

Epigraph: Letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, August 12, 1980. 
1. Rex Reed, "Shirley: Suffering a Fool Gladly," Daily News, March 25, 
1979, 10. 

Notes to Pages 217-229 


2. Jack and Beth Ashby, telephone interview with the author, December 18, 

3. Wiley and Bona, Inside Oscar, 565. 

4. William Overend, "An Oscar Comes Home," Los Angeles Times, April 
11, 1979. 

5. Note from Haskell Wexler to Hal Ashby, April 10, 1979. 

6. Glazer, "The Strange World of Peter Sellers," 43. 

7. Charles Clapsaddle, telephone interview with the author, July 30, 2006. 

8. Letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, February 27, 1979. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Adrian Hodges, "Flying Start for Ashby," Screen International, May 18, 
1980, 44. 

11. Letter from Terry Southern to Hal Ashby, September 10, 1979. 

12. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Aljean Harmetz, "Book by Kosinski, Film by Ashby," New York Times, 
December 23, 1979, 2-19. 

15. Fischer, "Peter Sellers' Chance of a Lifetime," 63-64. 

16. David Alexander, "But Who Really Played Peter Sellers," New West, 
April 21, 1980, 7 

17 Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" 23-24. 

18. Letter from Gerry Ayres to Hal Ashby, March 10, 1980. 

19. Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" 24. 

20. Letter from Mike Kaplan to Hal Ashby, October 21, 1980. 

21. Letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, August 12, 1980. 

22. Young and Bruns, "Hal Ashby: Satisfaction in Being There," 96. 

23. Andrew Braunsberg, telephone interview with the author, April 4, 2006. 

24. Young and Bruns, "Hal Ashby: Satisfaction in Being There," 95. 

25. Alexander Walker, Peter Sellers: The Authorized Biography (London: 
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1981), 213. 

26. Letter from Terry Southern to Hal Ashby, September 8, 1980. 

19. Lookin' to Get Out 

Epigraphs: Pauline Kael, "Why Are Movies So Bad? or, The Numbers," New 
Yorker, June 23, 1980; letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, August 12, 1980. 

1. Charles Schreger, "A Script Jon Can Live With," Los Angeles Times, 
April 14, 1980. 

2. Lookin' to Get Out Paramount press notes, 13. 

3. Jon Voight interview, interviewer unknown, ca. 1981. 

4. Letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, August 12, 1980. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 


Notes to Pages 229-242 

7. Young and Bruns, "Hal Ashby: Satisfaction in Being There," 97. 

8. Hal Ashby, draft scene for Lookin' to Get Out, 1980. 

9. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 

10. Ibid. 

11. Letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, May 5, 1980. 

12. Letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, August 12, 1980. 

13. Jon Voight, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, December 5, 

14. Jeff Wexler, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 2004. 

15. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 353. 

16. Chuck Mulvehill, telephone interview with the author, April 12, 2006. 

17. Jon Voight interview, interviewer unknown, ca. 1981. 

18. Jon Voight, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, December 5, 

19. Eva Gardos, telephone interview with the author, January 20, 2007. 

20. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 

21. Letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, August 12, 1980. 

22. Lee Grant, telephone interview with the author, July 22, 2006. 

23. Jon Voight interview, interviewer unknown, ca. 1981. 

24. Ibid. 

25. Ibid. 

26. Lookin' to Get Out Northstar production notes. 

27. Al Schwartz, interview with the author, Los Angeles, December 5, 2006. 

28. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 353. 

29. Jon Voight, telephone interview with the author, October 20, 2006. 

30. Haskell Wexler, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, Decem- 
ber 5, 2006. 

31. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 

32. "Oral History with Robert F. Boyle," 256. 

33. Memo from Hal Ashby to Ed Rubin, September 25, 1980. 

34. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 

35. Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" 23. 

36. Rick Padilla, telephone interview with the author, October 13, 2006. 

37. Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" 23. 

38. Charles Clapsaddle, telephone interview with the author, July 30, 2006. 

39. Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" 24. 

40. Mike Kaplan, interview with the author, London, March 17, 2004. 

41. Mailgram from Hal Ashby to Gordon Weaver, Paramount, NY, April 
30, 1981. 

42. Archer Winsten, review of Second Hand Hearts, New York Post, May 
8, 1981,41. 

Notes to Pages 242-254 


43. Bill Kenly, press screening report, April 28, 1981. 

44. C.B., ''Second Hand Hearts,^' Motion Picture Product Digest, June 3, 

45. Vincent Canby, "Calling All Hamsters," New York Times, May 8, 1981, 

46. Charles Eastman, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 

20. Like a Rolling Stone 

Epigraphs: Peter Bart, "The Players: The Men Who Fell to Earth," GQ, 
August 1995, 65; Hundley, "The Ultimate Hollywood Outlaw," 90-91. 

1. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 

2. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 353. 

3. Ibid., 354. 

4. Eva Gardos, telephone interview with the author, January 20, 2007. 

5. Prince Rupert Loewenstein, interview with the author, London, March 
15, 2004. 

6. Andrew Braunsberg, telephone interview with the author, April 4, 2006. 

7. Letter from Andrew Braunsberg to Hal Ashby, June 10, 1981. 

8. Robert Downey Sr., interview with the author. New York, January 3, 

9. Andrew Braunsberg, telephone interview with the author, April 4, 2006. 

10. Ibid. 

11. Mike Kaplan, telephone interview with the author. May 15, 2004. 

12. Jeff Wexler, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 2004. 

13. Jack and Beth Ashby, telephone interview with the author, December 18, 

14. Letter from Jack Schwartzman to Hal Ashby, February 20, 1979. 

15. Ray Loynd, "Ashby's Future with 'Tootsie' on Hold at Columbia," Hol- 
lywood Reporter, October 20, 1981, 10. 

16. Kenneth Kleinberg, telephone interview with the author, June 28, 2005. 

17. Robert Palmer, "They Filmed as the Stones Rolled," New York Times, 
February 6, 1983, 15. 

18. Ibid. 

19. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 

20. Ibid. 

21. Palmer, "They Filmed as the Stones Rolled," 15. 

22. Prince Rupert Loewenstein, interview with the author, London, March 
15, 2004. 

23. Jeff Wexler, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 2004. 

24. Prince Rupert Loewenstein, interview with the author, London, March 
15, 2004. 


Notes to Pages 255-266 

25. Carlos Clarens, "Mick Jagger," Moviegoer, September 1982, 16. 

26. Palmer, "They Filmed as the Stones Rolled," 20. 

27. From draft script of pay-per-view show. 

21. Getting Out 

Epigraph: "Directors of the 9th Era," 69. 

1. Letter from Merv Adelson to Hal Ashby, January 27, 1982. 

2. Agreement between Lorimar and Ashby, February 8, 1982, quoted in 
letter from Brian C. Lysaght to Joseph A. Eisenberg, June 1, 1984. 

3. Letter from Hal Ashby to Kenneth Kleinberg, April 29, 1982. 

4. Martin A. Grove, "'Get Out' May Be Last Film for Lorimar," Los Ange- 
les Herald Examiner, April 29, 1982. 

5. Lisa Day, telephone interview with the author, December 16, 2006. 

6. Sonya Sones, telephone interview with the author, April 22, 2004. 

7. Carl Arrington, "Mr. Rolling Stone Finds Sweet Satisfaction with Rock's 
Richest Tour Ever," People, ca. January 1982. 

8. Letter from Mike Kaplan to Phil Smith, April 29, 1982. 

9. Leslie Shatz, "Robert 'Buzz' Knudson," Editors' Guild Newsletter, May/ 
June 2000. 

10. Mailgram from Hal Ashby to Mick Jagger, May 18, 1982. 

11. Mike Kaplan, interview with the author, London, March 17, 2004. 

12. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 354. 

13. Jon Voight, telephone interview with the author, October 20, 2006. 

14. Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" 24. 

15. Mailgram from Ashby to Frank Mancuso of Paramount, Buffy Shutt, 
Shelly Hochran, and Gordon Weaver, September 24, 1982. 

16. Lor., "Lookin' to Get Out," Variety, October 6, 1982. 

17. Robert Osborne, ''Lookin' to Get Out," Hollywood Reporter, October 

18. Charles Champlin, "Critic at Large," Los Angeles Times, October 15, 
1982, VI-8. 

19. Fischer, "Peter Sellers' Chance of a Lifetime," 64. 

20. Robert Schaffel, interview with the author, Los Angeles, January 26, 

21. "Oral History with Robert F. Boyle," 257 

22. Kenneth Kleinberg, telephone interview with the author, June 28, 2005. 

23. Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" 24. 

24. Mike Kaplan, interview with the author, London, March 17, 2004. 

25. Steve Barnett, "'Let's Spend the Night Together': Multitrack Music Edit- 
ing, Post-Production and Re-Recording Stages," Recording Engineer/Producer, 
February 1983, 60, 75. 

26. Cart., "Time Is on Our Side," Variety, August 25, 1982; Tina Daniell, 
"Let's Spend the Night Together," Hollywood Reporter, August 19, 1982, 22. 

Notes to Pages 266-280 


27. Janet Maslin, "Rock Glamour," New York Times, February 11, 1983, C8. 

28. Let's Spend the Night Together Embassy Pictures draft press notes. 

29. Let's Spend the Night Together Embassy Pictures production notes. 

30. Palmer, "They Filmed as the Stones Rolled," 20. 

31. John Blake, "Mick and Keith in Big Film Flare-Up," London Sun, April 
22, 1983, 15. 

32 . Prince Rupert Loewenstein, interview with the author, London, March 
15, 2004. 

22. Old Man 

1. Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" 1. 

2. Letter from Mike Kaplan to Hal Ashby, October 5, 1982. 

3. Pollock, "Whatever Happened to Hal Ashby?" 1, 23. 

4. Ibid., 1, 23. 

5. Ibid., 23, 1. 

6. Mike Kaplan, "Ashby Story — a Biased Viewpoint?" (letter), Los Angeles 
Times, October 24, 1982, Calendar section, 20. 

7. Chuck Mulvehill, telephone interview with the author, July 8, 2008. 

8. Transcript of Deposition of Hal Ashby, January 21, 1986. 

9. Letter from Hal Ashby to Eileen Ashby, July 9, 1963. Courtesy Jack 

10. Scott Young, Neil and Me (London: Rogan, 1997), 243. 

23. The Slugger's Wife 

Epigraph: Letter from Hal Ashby to Merv Adelson, August 12, 1980. 

1. Note from Ray Stark to Hal Ashby, December 18, 1973. 

2. Letter from Ray Stark to Hal Ashby, January 17, 1980. 

3. Andrew Yule, Enigma: David Puttnam, the Story So Far (Edinburgh: 
Mainstream, 1988), 312. 

4. Warren Beatty, telephone interview with the author, January 18, 2007. 

5. Email from Michael O'Keefe to the author, February 2, 2004. 

6. Caleb Deschanel, telephone interview with the author, January 8, 2007. 

7. Thomas Wiener, "Rebecca De Mornay on Deck," American Film, April 
1985, 38. 

8. Memo from Ray Stark to Hal Ashby, January 27, 1984. 

9. Card from Ray Stark to Hal Ashby, March 6, 1984. 

10. Inscription from Neil Simon to Hal Ashby, February 19, 1984. 

11. Email from Michael O'Keefe to the author, October 9, 2006. 

12. Jeff Wexler, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 2004. 

13. Rebello, "A Mild and Wild Maverick," 109. 
14. Ibid. 

15. Letter from Ray Stark to Hal Ashby, April 14, 1984. 


Notes to Pages 280-294 

16. Caleb Deschanel, telephone interview with the author, January 8, 2007. 

17. Letter from Ray Stark to Hal Ashby, April 14, 1984. 

18. Caleb Deschanel, telephone interview with the author, January 8, 2007. 

19. The Slugger's Wife Columbia Pictures production notes. 

20. Email from Michael O'Keefe to the author, January 27, 2004. 

21. Email from Michael O'Keefe to the author, February 2, 2004. 

22. Jeff Wexler, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 2004. 

23. Rudy Wurlitzer, telephone interview with the author, April 17, 2006. 

24. Email from Guy D'Alema to the author, February 27, 2004. 

25. Note from Dianne Schroeder to Hal Ashby, March 2, 1984. 

26. Letter from Carleigh [Hoff?] to Hal Ashby, April 13, 1984. 

27. Email from Michael O'Keefe to the author, February 2, 2004. 

28. Letter from Neil Simon to Ray Stark, May 30, 1984. 

29. Memo from Ray Stark to Hal Ashby, June 1, 1984. 

30. Memo from Ray Stark to Hal Ashby, June 9, 1984. 

31. Memo from Hal Ashby to Ray Stark, June 9, 1984. 

32. Jeff Wexler, interview with the author, Venice, CA, November 6, 2004. 

33. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 

34. Letter from Robert L. Robinson to Hal Ashby, August 3, 1984. 

35. Memo from Hal Ashby to Jeff Berg, Bert Fields, Michael Sherman, Law- 
rence Iser, and J. Hornstein, January 17, 1986. 

36. Ibid. 

37. "Trouble Brews over Final Cut on Columbia's 'Slugger's Wife,'" Daily 
Variety, December 20, 1984, 1. 

38. Hal Ashby, interview by Catherine Wyler, February 12, 1985. 

39. Email from Michael O'Keefe to the author, October 9, 2006. 

40. Janet Maslin, "Foul Ball," New York Times, March 29, 1985, CIO. 

41. Rex Reed, "'Slugger' Strikes Out," New York Post, March 29, 1985, 23. 

42. Merrill Shindler, "The Slugger's Wife Strikes Out," Los Angeles Maga- 
zine, April 1985, 34. 

43. David Ansen, "Matrimonial Slump," Newsweek, April 1, 1985. 

44. Jagr., review of The Slugger's Wife, Variety, March 20, 1985. 

45. John Horn, "Simon Takes Swing at 'Slugger's Wife,'" Los Angeles Times, 
April 15, 1985. 

46. Transcript of Deposition of Hal Ashby, January 21, 1986. 

47. Duane Byrge, "The Slugger's Wife," Hollywood Reporter, March 28, 
1985, 21. 

24. 8 Million Ways to Die 

Epigraphs: Chuck Mulvehill, interview with the author, Los Angeles, De- 
cember 5, 2004; memo from Hal Ashby to Chuck Mulvehill, July 19, 1985. 

1. Transcript of Deposition of Hal Ashby, January 21, 1986. 

2. Letter from Mark Damon to Hal Ashby, January 24, 1985. 

Notes to Pages 294-307 


3. Gregg Kilday, "Many Bridges to Cross," Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 
April 11, 1985. 

4. Steve Burum, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, November 
17, 2004. 

5. Transcript of Deposition of Hal Ashby, January 21, 1986. 

6. Kilday, "Many Bridges to Cross." 

7. Michael Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," LA Weekly, May 16, 1986, 32. 

8. Chuck Mulvehill, telephone interview with the author, April 12, 2006. 

9. Letter from Lance Hill to Hal Ashby, June 29, 1985. 

10. Draft memo (unsent) from Hal Ashby to John Hyde, July 25, 1985. 

11. Transcript of Deposition of Hal Ashby, January 21, 1986. 

12. Draft memo (unsent) from Hal Ashby to John Hyde, July 25, 1985. 

13. Transcript of script conference with Robert Towne, Hal Ashby, and Bart 
[?],July 3,1985. 

14. Memo from Hal Ashby to Chuck Mulvehill, July 19, 1985. 

15. Memo from Hal Ashby to John Hyde of PSO, July 24, 1985. 

16. Transcript of Deposition of Hal Ashby, January 21, 1986. 

17. Steve Burum, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, November 
17, 2004. 

18. "Hal Ashby" by Jeff Bridges, statement sent to author via e-mail, August 
10, 2004. 

19. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 32. 

20. Steve Burum, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, November 
17, 2004. 

21. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 32. 

22. Alexandra Paul, telephone interview with the author, February 12, 2004. 

23. Steve Burum, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, November 
17 2004. 

24. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 33. 

25. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 428-29. 

26. Transcript of Deposition of Hal Ashby, January 21, 1986. 

27. James Riordan, Stone: The Controversies, Excesses and Exploits of a 
Radical Filmmaker (London: Aurum, 1996), 142. 

28. Rochelle O'Gorman, "Interview with Lawrence Block," Audiobook 
Cafe, December 3, 2003, http://web.archive.Org/web/20050503054706/http:/ cfm?FtrCatCod=l&Code=578. 

29. Regina Hackett, "Mystery Writer's Killer Insight Is, Well, a Secret," 
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 15, 1997. 

30. Lawrence Y. Iser, Arbitration Brief of Case Put by Hal Ashby to DGA, 
February 19, 1986. 

31. Steve Burum, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, November 
17, 2004. 

32. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 32. 

33. Alexandra Paul, telephone interview with the author, February 12, 


Notes to Pages 307-318 

34. Transcript of Deposition of Hal Ashby, January 21, 1986. 

35. Ibid. 

36. Letter from Kevin Koloff to Jeff Berg, February 6, 1985. 

37. Letter from L. Andrew Stone to Hal Ashby, November 27, 1985. 

38. Note from Bob Lawrence to Hal Ashby, ca. December 5, 1985. 

39. Letter from Hal Ashby to Michael Sherman, December 13, 1985. 

25. The Last Movie 

Epigraphs: Andy Garcia, telephone interview with the author, January 10, 
2007; Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 32. 

1. Chuck Mulvehill, interview with the author, Los Angeles, December 5, 

2. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 33. 

3. Letter from Hal Ashby to Mark Damon, December 19, 1985. 

4. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 32. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Transcript of Deposition of Hal Ashby, January 21, 1986. 

7. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 436. 

8. Chuck Mulvehill, interview with the author, Los Angeles, December 5, 

9. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 33. 

10. Mike Kaplan, interview with the author, London, March 17, 2004. 

11. Alexandra Paul, telephone interview with the author, February 12, 

12. Ronald Bergan, Dustin Hoffman (London: Virgin, 1991), 220. 

13. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 33. 

14. Brit., review of 8 Million Ways to Die, Variety, April 23, 1986. 

15. Duane Byrge, "Eight Million Ways to Die,"" Hollywood Reporter, April 
21, 1986, 9. 

16. Walter Goodman, "Stone Cold," New York Times, April 25, 1986, C17 
17 Pauline Kael, "S Million Ways to Die,'' New Yorker, May 19, 1986, 102. 

18. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 32. 

19. Mike Figgis, "Rosanna Arquette," in Projections 10, ed. Mike Figgis 
(London: Faber & Faber, 1999), 80. 

20. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 32. 

21. Ibid., 33. 

22. Steve Burum, interview with the author, Santa Monica, CA, November 
17, 2004. 

23. Andy Garcia, telephone interview with the author, January 10, 2007. 

24. Dare, "How to Kill a Movie," 31. 

25. Ibid., 33. 

26. Luke Ford, "Mark Damon Interview," 


27 "Hal Ashby" by Jeff Bridges. 

Notes to Pages 319-332 


26. Starting Over 

Epigraph: Penn quoted in Hundley, "The Ultimate Hollywood Outlaw," 89. 

1. Bob Jones, telephone interview with the author, April 14, 2006. 

2. Rudy Wurlitzer, telephone interview with the author, April 17, 2006. 

3. Jim Harrison, Off to the Side: A Memoir (New York: Atlantic Monthly 
Press, 2002), 272-73. 

4. Rudy Wurlitzer, telephone interview with the author, April 17, 2006. 

5. Lee Grant, "Vietnam Milieu for Ashby Movie," Los Angeles Times, 
November 20, 1976. 

6. AFI Seminar with Hal Ashby, interview by James Powers, January 30, 

7. Rick Padilla, telephone interview with the author, October 13, 2006. 

8. Rudy Wurlitzer, telephone interview with the author, April 17, 2006. 

9. Bart, "The Players," 68. 

10. Rebello, "A Mild and Wild Maverick," 110. 

11. Rick Padilla, telephone interview with the author, October 13, 2006. 

12. Ibid. 

13. Email from John Teton to the author, March 26, 2005. 

14. Rick Padilla, telephone interview with the author, October 13, 2006. 

15. John Mandel, telephone interview with the author, March 18, 2006. 

16. Jeff Jarvis, "Beverly Hills Buntz," People Weekly, November 30, 1987. 

17. Bok., "Beverly Hills Buntz," Variety, November 18, 1987. 

18. Richard Hack, "Televisions," Hollywood Reporter, November 9, 1987, 7. 

19. Richard T. Kelly, Sean Venn: His Life and Times (London: Faber & 
Faber, 2004), 210. 

20. Hal Ashby memorial service, December 30, 1988. 

21. Kelly, Sean Penn, 209, 210. 

22. Ibid., 210. 

23. Jim Yoakum, "Graham Chapman's Journey," Rolling Stone, November 
17, 1988,47. 

24. Joyce Gallie, interview with the author, March 19, 2004. 

25. Kim "Howard" Johnson, Life Before and After Monty Python: The Solo 
Plights of the Flying Circus (London: Plexus, 1993), 226. 

26. Celia Imrie, telephone interview with the author, July 29, 2004. 

27. Chris Young, telephone interview with the author, January 4, 2007. 

28. Ibid. 

29. Johnson, Life Before and After Monty Python, 227. 

30. Hal Ashby memorial service, December 30, 1988. 

31. Ibid. 

32. Jerry Hellman, telephone interview with the author, August 2, 2006. 

33. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 436. 

34. Warren Beatty, telephone interview with the author, January 18, 2007. 

35. Rick Padilla, telephone interview with the author, October 13, 2006. 


Notes to Pages 333-342 

27. Do Not Go Gentle 

1. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 436. 

2. Rick Padilla, telephone interview with the author, October 13, 2006. 

3. Email from Lynn Griffis to the author, November 5, 2006. 

4. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 437. 

5. Email from Lynn Griffis to the author, November 5, 2006. 

6. Dustin Hoffman, interview with the author. New York, February 15, 

7. Hundley, "The Ultimate Hollywood Outlaw," 91. 

8. Dustin Hoffman, interview with the author. New York, February 15, 

9. Al Schwartz, telephone interview with the author, October 23, 2006. 

10. Kelly, Sean Venn, 224. 

11. Email from John Teton to the author, March 26, 2005. 

12. Robert Downey Sr., interview with the author. New York, January 3, 

13. Hal Ashby memorial service, December 30, 1988. 
14. Ibid. 

15. Hundley, "The Ultimate Hollywood Outlaw," 91. 

16. "Hal Ashby: A Man Out of Time" documentary, on Coming Home 

17. Rick Padilla, telephone interview with the author, October 13, 2006. 

18. Jon Voight, telephone interview with the author, October 20, 2006. 

19. Norman Jewison, telephone interview with the author, April 25, 2006. 

20. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 437. 

21. Gordon Weeks, "Woman Reflects on Life of Hollywood Director Broth- 
er," Ogden Standard Examiner, December 30, 1988. 

22. Al Schwartz, telephone interview with the author, October 23, 2006. 

23. Kelly, Sean Penn, 245. 

24. Rick Padilla, telephone interview with the author, October 13, 2006. 

25. Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 437-38. 

26. Al Schwartz, interview with the author, Los Angeles, December 5, 2006. 

27. Bob Jones, telephone interview with the author, April 14, 2006. 

28. Jerry Hellman, telephone interview with the author, August 2, 2006. 

29. Robert Downey Sr., interview with the author, New York, January 3, 

30. Young and Bruns, "Hal Ashby: Satisfaction in Being There," 96-97. 

31. "Morning Report," Los Angeles Times, December 30, 1988. 

32. Hal Ashby memorial service, December 30, 1988. 

33. Ibid. 

34. Ibid. 

35. Ibid. 


Abraham, F. Murray, 145 
Academy Awards, 33, 46, 52, 68, 75, 
78, 83, 102, 118, 122, 129, 138, 
147, 149, 159, 165, 195, 221, 
222, 224, 226, 253, 277, 324 
and Coming Home, 216-18 
and In the Heat of the Night, 

and The Last Detail, 150-51 

Adelson, Merv, 219, 224-25, 228, 
260, 263,271,293,318 

Adler, Lou, 152, 200 

Aghayan, Ray, 102 

Agnew, Spiro, 158 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), 295-96, 

298, 302 
Alexander, Newell, 274 
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore 

(film; 1974), 160, 166 
Alice's Restaurant (film; 1969), 167 
All-American Boy, The (film; 1973), 


Allen, Dede, 97 

Allen, Nancy, 142 
Allen, Steve, 34 
Allyson, June, 314 

Almendros, Nestor, 141 

Almost Together. See Victor Hiatus 

Alonzo, John, 124 

Altman, Robert, 122, 157, 201, 225, 

American Federation of Musicians, 

American Film Institute, 67, 156, 222 
American Me (film; 1992), 200-201 

Anderson, Bernadine, 12-13 
Androcles and the Lion (Shaw), 

Animal factory (Bunker), 220 
Annie (film; 1982), 277 
Ann-Margret, 72, 228, 236-37, 263 
Ansen, David, 290 
Arbuckle, Roscoe ("Fatty"), 122 
Arigato (screenplay), 145, 147-48 
Arkin, Alan, 83, 179, 227 
Arless, Jean. See Marshall, Joan 
Armstrong, Maxine, 31-32 
Arnaz, Desi, 44 

Arqucttc, Rosanna, 296, 298, 301, 

303-4, 306, 309-12, 316 
Ashby, Ardith, 3, 5, 7-8, 9, 17, 21, 

27, 338 

Ashby, Beth (nee Christensen), 21, 
23, 31, 206, 214, 217, 339, 342 

Ashby, Carrie, 61-62, 64, 82, 89, 
91, 94 

Ashby, Eileen Hetzler, 3-13, 15-18, 
21-23, 26-27, 29-30, 31-32, 
38,46, 61, 135, 230 
correspondence with Hal Ashby, 

61-66, 100-101 
death of, 149-50 
Ashby, Guy, 21, 335 
Ashby, Jack, 21, 23-24, 30, 31, 63, 
135, 149, 214, 217, 250, 335, 
338-39, 342 
childhood with Hal Ashby, 6-13, 

visits to Hal Ashby during film 
shoots, 206, 214, 217 




Ashby, James Thomas, 2-14, 15, 16, 

death of, 2, 12-14, 15, 16, 38, 135, 

229, 327 

Ashby, James Hetzler ("Hetz"), 3, 5, 

7, 8, 9, 130, 149 
Ashby, June, 130 

Ashby, Leigh, 23, 25, 26, 27, 60, 61, 

63, 230, 342 
Ashby, Meredith, 60, 217 
Ashby, Steven, 86, 89, 91, 93-95 
Ashby, Thomas, 2-3 
Ashby, Wilham, 29 
Ashby, Wilham Hal 

adolescence of, 15-25, 63 

apprenticeship, editing, 42-67 

childhood of, 6-14 

death of, 331-42 

drug use by, 35, 37, 50, 55, 70, 120, 
121, 123, 125, 138, 140, 141, 
174, 219, 238, 240, 245-46, 
254, 269, 270, 313, 319 

European trip, 54-57 

father's death, 2, 12-14, 15, 16, 
38, 135, 229, 327 

films as editor: 
Cincinnati Kid, The (1965), 

In the Heat of the Night (1966), 

77-85, 88-89, 96-97 
Loved One, The (1965), 67-70, 


Russians Are Coming, the Rus- 
sians Are Coming, The (1966), 

Thomas Crown Affair, The 
(1968), 85-89, 91-92, 100-101 
films as d